Ask Learner Mama #3 How can I deal with heartburn during pregnancy?

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I recently had a conversation with someone who was pregnant with her first baby.  She was speaking of one of the dreaded pregnancy symptoms; heartburn.  The very mention of it gave me horrendous flashbacks.  I suffered terribly, particularly on my second.  This lady thought initially she could not take anything or do anything to help it but there are things you can do.  I thought it might make a nice Ask Learner Mama feature to deal with the topic of heartburn during pregnancy; everything from what it is, what causes it, most importantly, what can be done to alleviate it and finally the all important question; does heartburn mean my baby will have a big head of hair?!

Ask Learner Mama

What is heartburn during pregnancy?

Heartburn occurs when stomach acid and juices make their way back up the oesophagus causing a burning sensation in the chest.  It is also known as acid reflux.  Thankfully it is usually not serious and not related to your heart.  It can happen to anyone at anytime, not just during pregnancy, however it is particularly common during pregnancy especially late on in the pregnancy.

ID-100360793Image courtesy of Stuart Miles / freedigitalphotos.net

What causes it?

Heartburn is common in pregnancy due to the many changes happening in the body.  A key cause is the increased amount of progesterone in the body which, while helping to relax the uterine muscles, unfortunately relaxes the valve between the stomach and the esophagus allowing acid to escape back up.

In addition, in late pregnancy your growing bump will push your stomach and the acid within it upwards causing even more chance of heartburn.

What can be done to alleviate it?

While you may not eliminate heartburn altogether during your pregnancy (getting baby out will be the only thing to do that) there are a number of things you can do to reduce the discomfort that heartburn causes:

1 Over-the-counter medication

First off you can take over the counter heartburn medication.  Unlike most medications that say “Not suitable in pregnancy” or “If you are pregnant speak to your Doctor” Gaviscon (my heartburn medication of choice) is suitable to take during pregnancy.

GavisconImage: gaviscon.ie

The liquid version comes with a little spoon and instructions about how much to take so follow the guidance on the bottle.  If I’m honest (and I don’t condone this) I used to swig it straight out of the bottle.  I have no idea how much I used to take, probably about the same amount as a spoonful but at 1am, dying of heartburn, I didn’t have time for faffing around with a spoon and measuring exact amounts.

Gaviscon is also available in tablet form but if I’m honest for some reason I didn’t find them as effective as the liquid.

2 Keep upright

When you are sleeping you should prop yourself up so that you are not lying flat thereby trying to keep the acid down in your stomach.

Even when you are awake avoid bending down or doing anything that will allow the stomach acid to run up your oesophagus.

3 Diet

Diet wise it is best to eat small regular meals.  Don’t let the stomach empty.  Watch what you are eating to minimise any additional triggers.  Avoiding things like carbonated drinks, citric juices, caffeine, chocolate, any other foods that may have a higher acidic content like tomatoes and vinegar as well as spicy or fatty foods will help to keep acid levels as low as possible.

4 Get to your Doctor and get prescription medication

In my case, on one of my pregnancies, the above strategies just did not alleviate the heartburn enough to be comfortable.  There is enough discomfort in pregnancy so if heartburn continues to be an issue speak to your medical practitioner who can prescribe you prescription strength medication (I was prescribed Gertac tablets) that can be safely taken during pregnancy under the supervision of a Doctor.

Will my baby have lots of hair?

There is an old wives’ tale that says the worse you suffer from heartburn the more hair your baby will have.  Yes, your baby might have a lot of hair when its born.  Statistics will show that a certain number of babies will be born with more hair than is average and the chances are that many of those mothers will have experienced some amount of heartburn.  Was the heartburn the cause of the increased amount of hair?  Who knows.  There is one very small study (only 64 pregnancies) that did show that those mums-to-be with more severe heartburn did have babies with above average amounts of hair and those who suffered less had babies with below average amounts of hair.  The researchers concluded that the higher levels of progesterone caused increased hair growth while also causing more severe heartburn.  So maybe there is some truth in that old wives’ tale.  Whatever the case your chances of some heartburn during pregnancy is very high.  So is having a baby with a head of hair!!

Are there any other topics or questions you would like to see as part of the Ask Learner Mama series?  Just e-mail me lucy@learnermama.com

Just remember, I am not a medical practitioner and my usual disclaimer applies.  If in any doubt about the health of you or your baby please contact your qualified medical practitioner.

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