How to Get Relief From Heartburn During Pregnancy

Heartburn can make pregnancy more uncomfortable, but there are safe medications and lifestyle changes that offer relief.

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Heartburn is common in pregnancy. Hormones that are released during pregnancy can relax the valve between your stomach and esophagus—the tube that connects your stomach and throat. This allows stomach acid to escape, causing an uncomfortable burning in your throat or chest. That sensation is known as heartburn, indigestion, or acid reflux.

As your pregnancy continues, you may also get heartburn from your uterus pressing on your stomach and pushing acid up your esophagus.

If you're dealing with heartburn during pregnancy, you can find relief by making dietary and lifestyle changes or by taking certain medications.

How to Get Relief From Heartburn During Pregnancy

Heartburn is a common pregnancy symptom that can get more severe or frequent as your baby grows. But you don't have to endure indigestion until your due date. Here are five heartburn treatments that are safe for you and your unborn baby.

Change Your Eating Habits

If you have heartburn after eating meals, adjusting how often, what, and when you eat while pregnant may help you prevent mild heartburn in the first place. 

Food stays in your stomach for longer when you are pregnant. To avoid an overly full stomach, and, in turn, heartburn, eat smaller meals throughout the day.

You may also be able to prevent mild heartburn by limiting foods that trigger your heartburn. Foods that may cause heartburn include: 

  • Caffeine
  • Acidic foods (like citrus fruits) 
  • High-fat foods
  • Spicy foods 

If you experience heartburn while trying to sleep, try to stop eating at least three hours before bedtime.

These diet and lifestyle changes may not work for everyone, and they likely won't help intense heartburn. Still, they may be worth trying before seeking stronger medications.

Keep Your Head Elevated After Meals and At Night

Bedtime snacking and midday naps may be hard to avoid during pregnancy, but lying down after eating can bring on heartburn. Lying down can put added pressure on your stomach, which again could push up stomach acid. By eating and digesting earlier in the evening, you may be able to avoid a sleepless night of heartburn.

To help avoid mild heartburn, try to avoid lying down flat. If you do need to lie down after a meal, try keeping your body slightly elevated. This can help avoid putting too much additional pressure on your stomach that would let acid escape.

To help prevent heartburn at night, try using a foam wedge or block to prop yourself up into an elevated position. Research has shown elevating the head in bed can help improve acid reflux symptoms.

Keep in mind that elevating your head isn’t a cure for heartburn; it’s only a way to find relief.

This minor change may also not work for you if other pregnancy factors–like hormonal changes–are causing your heartburn.

Take Antacids

A staple for heartburn relief, most over-the-counter antacids like calcium carbonate (Tums) are safe to take while pregnant. Antacids typically come in chewable tablets containing magnesium, aluminum, or calcium salts that help neutralize the acid in your stomach to avoid a burning sensation. 

If you typically have heartburn after meals or at bedtime, taking an antacid with food or before you go to sleep can help temporarily relieve heartburn.

Make sure to talk with your healthcare provider before taking an OTC antacid. They can help you choose a safe dosage and a pregnancy-safe antacid. 

For example, sodium bicarbonate antacids (like Alka-Seltzer) are not considered safe for pregnancy because they can cause swelling and health complications related to your blood's acid balance. Antacids like bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto Bismol) are also not safe to take during pregnancy because of non-pregnancy-safe ingredients like salicylates.

If you take a pregnancy-safe antacid, serious complications while pregnant are rare unless you take extremely high doses. Still, antacids can interact with the absorption of iron and folic acid and shouldn't be taken with other medications or supplements–especially if you have a nutrient deficiency. 

Antacids can also cause side effects such as:

  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Abdominal pain

For more heartburn relief, a healthcare provider may suggest taking alginates with antacids. Alginates are medications that create a gel layer on top of your stomach acid, which helps create a barrier to prevent stomach acid from escaping.

Take H2 Blockers

If taking antacids and using preventative measures aren't helping to relieve your heartburn, a stronger medication like an H2 blocker may be the next option. 

Also called H2 receptor blockers or H2 receptor antagonists (H2RAs), these prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) medications help suppress stomach acid production to help relieve heartburn. After antacids, H2RAs are the most common medication used to help treat acid reflux during pregnancy.

H2 blockers, such as famotidine (Pepcid), are considered safe during pregnancy. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration only approves the blockers as a short-term treatment for mild heartburn or indigestion.

Before taking any OTC medication, talk to a healthcare provider about which H2 blocker may help your heartburn symptoms. They may recommend a certain OTC option or prescribe you a specific H2 blocker.

You are unlikely to experience adverse effects on H2 blockers, but some mild side effects may be diarrhea, constipation, headaches, fatigue, and abdominal discomfort. They can also interact with some medications, such as theophylline, certain SSRIs, or warfarin. 

Take Proton Pump Inhibitors

Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are a group of prescribed and OTC medications like lansoprazole (Prevacid) that help reduce the production of stomach acid for heartburn relief.

These medications are more powerful than H2 blockers, but they also put you at greater risk for developing infections and bacteria overgrowth. People should only use PPIs when experiencing acid reflux complications or if other treatment options don't work. 

While PPIs are effective at reducing stomach acid that can cause heartburn, they can be slower to work, causing a delay in relief.

Most PPIs are safe for people who are pregnant. An exception is omeprazole (Prilosec). Animal studies have shown omeprazole may be dangerous for a growing fetus, and healthcare professionals do not consider it to be safe for pregnancy in humans. 

While the risk for side effects during short-term and low-dosage use of PPIs is low, some side effects of taking PPIs may include headache, dizziness, abdominal pain, diarrhea, back pain, and upper respiratory infections.

Talk to a healthcare provider about which PPI is best for you.

A Quick Review

If heartburn during pregnancy is a persistent problem, chat with a healthcare provider about treatment options. There are easy ways to stop the discomfort, including taking pregnancy-safe antacids. You can also make simple lifestyle and diet changes to help prevent heartburn in the first place. If these treatments don't help relieve your heartburn, your provider may suggest taking stronger medications like H2 blockers or PPIs.

Most heartburn relief medications are available OTC, but that doesn't mean they are all safe during pregnancy. Your healthcare provider can help you figure out which medications and dosages are safe for your pregnancy and specific health needs.

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