Heartburn in Pregnancy: Ten ways to Calm the Fire

Heartburn in pregnancyHeartburn can be a vexing experience at any stage of pregnancy, from the early weeks to the hours before labor.  For some women, heartburn is a constant throughout pregnancy, for others it comes and goes, and some women are spared from this common pregnancy condition. In normal digestion, food enters the stomach from the esophagus, hydrochloric acid (HCl) is released, and an enzyme is produced to break down proteins in food. When stomach acid returns (or refluxes) back up into the esophagus we experience heartburn.  Interestingly, heartburn can occur in the presence of too much or not enough stomach acid.

Heartburn during pregnancy is attributed to the increased level of progesterone (which softens smooth muscles) that can slow digestion and prevent the esophageal sphincter from closing all the way.  Furthermore, as baby gets bigger, digestive organs are forced upwards and out of their pre-pregnancy position, which can also prevent containment of stomach acids where they belong.

Here are ten great, natural ways to get relief from heartburn during pregnancy.

1.  Alkalizing drinks 

It sounds counter-productive, since it tastes acidic, but apple cider vinegar can work wonders for heartburn in some women.  Add two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to a glass of water (you may wish to add some honey or a few drops of stevia to sweeten the deal).  Though this may seem to intensify the burn for a minute or so, it should subside, along with your heartburn.

Lemon water can also help ease heartburn by alkalizing the body.

Some women find that drinking during meals aggravates their heartburn, so you may consider hydrating between meals.

2.  Digestive Enzymes

Enzyme tablets containing papain (papaya) can be purchased at a health food store and chewed during or after every meal or whenever heartburn strikes.

3.   Helpful herbs

Demulcent herbs can coat, soothe, and heal the esophagus and stomach. The best demulcents for pregnancy are include:

  • Slippery elm bark powder—Thayer slippery elm lozenges can be purchased at Whole Foods or the co-op; take throughout the day as need for heartburn
  • Marshmallow root (pre-made heartburn teas often contain this herb)

Carminative herbs are anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic, and thus can soothe heartburn.  (Note:  stronger smelling herbs may not be well tolerated during bouts of morning sickness).  These herbs include:

  • Fennel
  • Aniseed
  • Lemon balm
  • Chamomile
  • Peppermint (note: for some women peppermint can aggravate heartburn)

Kudzu root, dandelion and catnip can also soothe the burn.  Herbs can be taken in tea form or as a tincture.

4.  Supplements

Probiotic can help to ease digestion and thus help soothe heartburn.  A Calcium/Magnesium supplement can also help.

Both are available at Health Foundations.

 5.  Foods

Yogurt can benefit your overall digestion.  Raw almonds or cashews, chewed slowly as a snack or after a meal, can ease heartburn by calming digestion. Some women find eating a baked potato with some fat source (e.g. cheese or butter) helps.  Including a healthy fat with each meal tends to help some women.

 6.  Avoid offending foods, which can include oily, heavy, spicy, or rich foods, chocolate, and caffeine.

 7.  Eat smaller meals more often and eat slowly and mindfully.

 8.  Don’t eat right before lying down, you may consider eating your evening meal at least 2 hours before bedtime.  If sleep or lying down aggravates your heartburn, consider sleeping with a few extra pillows to prop your head up.

 9.  Wear loose fitting clothing and breathe deeply.

 10. Get a chiropractic adjustment this can help move your stomach back into a more optimal position, especially as baby grows larger and upward pressure is rearranging your internal landscape.

We encourage you to speak with us about your condition if you are finding that these natural remedies are not providing relief.  Some over-the-counter heartburn medicines are safe to use during pregnancy.