Of all of the changes that occur during pregnancy, heartburn is one that a great many women experience. Pregnancy and heartburn tend to go together, and women who have never experienced it before might suffer from it on a frequent basis. Fortunately, heartburn in pregnancy is quite easy to prevent and treat.
Heartburn in pregnancy occurs for two reasons. When your body first realizes it is pregnant, it kicks the production of the hormone progesterone into overdrive. This hormone is critical in preparing your body to nurture a fetus and to fetal development.
Unfortunately, increased progesterone production also helps relax the cardiac sphincter, the muscle that closes off the opening between the stomach and the esophagus. When the cardiac sphincter is relaxed, it is much easier for food and gastric acid in the stomach to flow back into the esophagus, creating a burning sensation in the middle of your chest.
Another reason for heartburn in pregnancy is that the uterus expands as the fetus grows, and pushes against the stomach, squishing it up against the cardiac sphincter; again creating the perfect conditions for heartburn. With two such powerful things occurring, it's no wonder that so many women experience pregnancy and heartburn together.
Ideally, you can try to prevent heartburn before it starts. One way to do this is to be as healthy as you can be before becoming pregnant. Establish good exercise habits and a healthy diet, and take a good prenatal vitamin when you first start to think about getting pregnant. If there are foods you know cause you heartburn, resolve to avoid them especially while pregnant. The deck is already stacked in favor of heartburn- don't encourage it further!
Fortunately, there are many ways to deal with heartburn in pregnancy. Try to make sure that you eat your last meal at least two hours before going to bed. Lying down just makes it that much easier for food and acid to go the wrong way. For the same reason, don't lie down immediately after eating. When you do go to sleep, prop your head up on a few pillows, so your esophagus always remains higher than the stomach.
Eat some yogurt, or drink milk- both are helpful in neutralizing stomach acid and they are good for you. Be sure to eat smaller meals more frequently- you are less likely to suffer heartburn with less food in your stomach. Be sure to avoid foods that are particularly greasy, spicy, or are known to produce gastric acid, like tomatoes and peppers. Also avoid foods like peppermint, garlic and chocolate, as these have been known to relax the cardiac sphincter, thereby causing heartburn in pregnancy.
If nothing else works, consider trying a mild antacid like Tums or Mylanta. It's probably best to check with you doctor before trying anything of that nature, though.
It is very likely that you will experience heartburn in pregnancy, but fortunately, there are a number of good ways to deal with it.