It can be one of the most frustrating side effects of pregnancy: heartburn, or an uncomfortable burning sensation in your chest after you eat. For some women, spicy foods set it off, while others experience it after eating large meals, lots of citrus or anything at all. And while some expectant moms might be reaching for antacids or other medications, others are keen to find natural heartburn remedies.
Also known as acid reflux, heartburn is a common symptom of pregnancy, says Nirmala Chandrasekaran, an OB/GYN at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto. That’s because the valve between your stomach and esophagus relaxes due to hormones, allowing the acid to flow back up.
Your digestive system also slows down during pregnancy, which can cause indigestion and constipation. Add to that the pressure of your growing baby on your stomach and the discomfort can intensify.
It can take some trial and error to figure out what will help with your discomfort—what works for one person might not work for another. Be sure to talk to your healthcare provider before taking any herbs, supplements or medications during pregnancy.
Still, many expectant moms swear by these natural heartburn remedies during pregnancy:
Well known for reducing nausea, ginger can also have a soothing effect on the digestive tract, says Erica Nikiforuk, a naturopathic doctor in Toronto. Chandrasekaran agrees. Opt for a ginger tea or ginger pregnancy chew.
“It’s been proven effective in treating nausea and vomiting, which is related to heartburn,” she says. You can try to incorporate natural ginger in your diet, such as grating it into your stir-fry or boiling it in water for tea, or get ready-made ginger tea or supplements.
“People tend to think of vinegar as very acidic, but apple cider vinegar is actually quite neutral, so it calms the acid down,” explains Carly Beaulieu, a midwife in Edmonton. Dilute one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in one cup of water and drink it once a day for natural heartburn relief.
Make sure your apple cider vinegar comes with the probiotic-friendly "mother" that is often filtered out of commercial brands. We like this bottle:
If you have heartburn because of slow digestion, foods with digestive enzymes, such as pineapple and papaya, might help, say Nikiforuk and Beaulieu. Snack on these fruits after meals to improve digestion. Pineapple and papaya are also available as enzyme tablets, but be sure to talk to your healthcare provider about taking any natural heartburn remedies or supplements during pregnancy.
Peppermint, slippery elm and marshmallow root are known for their soothing properties and considered safe during pregnancy, says Nikiforuk.
However, be sure to check with your healthcare provider before taking any herbs or herbal teas while pregnant. Try sipping these teas, available at health food stores, after dinner to see if they offer some natural heartburn relief.
The bacteria in your gut maintains the health of your entire digestive system. A probiotic supplement increases “good” bacteria in your digestive system to combat “bad” bacteria.
Both Nikiforuk and Beaulieu suggest taking a probiotic supplement regularly to help with heartburn. The American Pregnancy Association considers probiotics to be safe during pregnancy but cautions that more research is needed.
Going for a 10-minute walk half an hour after a meal promotes digestion, says Beaulieu. Getting food moving through the digestive tract means a little less pressure on your stomach, so it’s less likely to spit acid back up your esophagus.
Women often don’t want to take medication during pregnancy, but if the symptoms are severe, talk to your doctor about over-the-counter or prescription medications. Chandrasekaran typically asks her patients to try making some lifestyle changes first, including eating smaller and more frequent meals and avoiding spicy foods. If these changes don’t help, she recommends medication.
Drugstore antacids, such as Tums and Gaviscon, are considered safe, but be sure to talk to your healthcare provider about these medications. If you take them on a daily basis, they could cause health problems down the road.
Chandrasekaran says that some women may need prescription medications to manage their heartburn and they are considered safe during pregnancy.
There are two types of medications: H2 blockers, such as ranitidine (Zantac), which block the signal to your brain to produce acid, and proton pump inhibitors, such as omeprazole (Losec), which inhibit the chemical process in your body that produces acid.
In 2019, concerns over possible contamination by a potential cancer-causing chemical prompted several brands of ranitidine, including Zantac, to be pulled from store shelves. Talk to your doctor about options if you've been taking this medication.
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