Why Do Pregnant Women Get SO Much Heartburn?

There’s all sorts of symptoms pregnant women get (it’s kinda depressing to think about how many) but one of the symptoms that seem universal is heartburn.

I had heartburn so bad my first trimester I had to go on medication. I thank God I had a high-risk OB who was in the know about the topic because my regular doctor said, “Just take Tums.”

Um…excuse me, kind Sir, but that would be like pissing on a forest fire. Completely ineffective and painful as HELL.

Oh yeah, Tums is gonna fight THAT...

When I went for the monthly check-up with Dr. Asrat (the high-risk doc I’d like to build a shrine to) he asked me how things were going. I told him I’d been waking up with choking heartburn, where the acid literally backed up into my throat.

I’d have to walk around my house for about an hour and a half before I could go back to bed or I’d start choking again. It was terrifying.

I was afraid to take too many Tums and the only other piece of advice I’d been given was, “Don’t eat within 6 hours of the time you plan to go to bed.”

Are you kidding me?? You want a pregnant woman  to go 14 hours without food? In my humble opinion, this is a great way to ensure that more women get morning sickness by waking up starving, with nothing but a bunch of hormones on their stomachs.

It’s always amazed me what people are willing to say to pregnant women. Way to kick the worried, hormonal gals when they’re down.

What are pregnant women allowed to take for heartburn?

Dr. Asrat not only gave me a plan to stop the heartburn, he told me why women get it. I’m going to share all that with you.

During that visit, he told me to start taking Pepcid AC. He recommended I try it for 3 weeks. If it did nothing to stop the choking heartburn, he would give me a prescription for Protonix, which has also been put on the safe list for pregnancy. Protonix helped save my pregnant sanity.

I never woke up choking on stomach acid again.

Note: You should stop taking Protonix when your baby’s born if you plan to breastfeed.

What else have I heard about for soothing heartburn?

Many women swear by papaya and papaya enzyme, BUT there’s a caveat to this. While papaya is an excellent source of vitamin C and many other nutrients, it MUST be very ripe. There is a substance called Papain, found in an unripe papaya’s latex and leaves, that can cause uterine contractions.

Photo from: HealthTipsInformation.com

If you are in a high-worry pregnancy anyway, you might want to keep papaya off your list. The papaya enzymes sold in health food stores come from ripe  papaya, but I’ll leave this decision to you. Click here for a great article on the papaya issue.

WHY do pregnant women get such bad heartburn?

Dr. Asrat explained this very simply. During pregnancy, women secrete TEN TIMES their normal amount of a hormone called Relaxin.

Relaxin is a force that does both good and evil.

On the “pro” side…
This hormone relaxes the muscles, joints and ligaments in the pelvis so that a baby can pass through the birth canal. Relaxin keeps us from dying in childbirth. That’s some great stuff.

I was so flexible and loose-jointed during pregnancy that my shoulders would literally collapse while I laid down, then click back into place as a stood up. It used to creep my husband out but I’ve heard it’s normal.

The downer side of Relaxin:
This abnormal motion in so many joints of the body can cause inflammation and pain. Here is an article about Relaxin and back pain. Dr. Asrat explained that Relaxin also softens the muscles of the esophagus and the valve at the top of the stomach, causing heartburn.

Normally there is a positive pressure downward, that holds the small, muscular flap (hiatal valve) at the top of your stomach closed. During pregnancy, this pressure softens and goes negative, allowing the valve to open and for acid to come up into the esophagus. Ouch.

What other pregnancy-related changes cause indigestion?

  • The pressure of a growing uterus on a pregnant mom’s stomach worsens indigestion.
  • Pregnancy hormones slow down the rate at which your stomach processes food.

What can YOU do to fight the effects of heartburn and indigestion?

  1. Try eating smaller meals more frequently throughout the day.  This will help your stomach to process food more easily and will reduce bloating.
  2. Avoid spicy or fried foods, which can trigger heartburn (although I’ve heard from several friends that they CRAVED these foods).
  3. Yes, it does reduce heartburn to avoid eating before you go to bed. I leave this up to your discretion.
  4. Sleep propped up on a lot of pillows.
  5. If your indigestion just won’t go away, do what I did and talk to your doctor about an antacid that is safe to take during pregnancy.

Do you have any heartburn remedies to share? Was heartburn a part of pregnancy for your or your pregnancy partner? I’d love to hear about your experience.


About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm (http://writersinthestormblog.com). Write on!
This entry was posted in Pregnancy Resources, Risky Baby Business and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

22 Responses to Why Do Pregnant Women Get SO Much Heartburn?

  1. That is so funny (in a non-funny way) it is called Relaxin since it hardly seems relaxin’ at all! When I was preggers with my baby girl (who is now 16) I got heartburn from drinking water along with everything else I ingested.. and lived on Tums (this was back in 1995 – so there was little help for such things).
    I found that if I laid in bed slightly propped up it helped, but not much.


  2. You’re such a great resource in multiple ways, Jenny. Thanks for sharing your experiences so to help others.

    Other steps that can minimize heartburn include keeping a food journal (listing foods and symptoms), since foods affect people prone to heartburn differently, eating more antioxidant-rich foods, like berries, bell peppers, tomatoes and sweet potatoes, foods high in B-vitamins, like whole grains and kale, probiotic sources, like yogurt, and omega-3 sources, which can help reduce inflammation. Salmon, flaxseeds and walnuts are high in omega-3s.

    I’ve heard that warm milk with honey helps, too. It also promotes calmness, making for an awesome bedtime snack. 😉


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Oooooh…I love having a nutritionist pal! This is awesome, August. I’ll be sure to include this in the book with a shout out to you.

      I also took very refined fish oil (Lovaza) every day when I was pregnant. I tried the OTC fish oil but every single one of them made me burp fish all day.


  3. Jane Johnson says:

    Eat a handful of almonds (raw or roasted, but not salted): they contain a natural antacid that help combat the heartburn. Manuka honey can help, too; also tart green apples (Granny Smith) produce a counter-acid which also help to neutralise the stomach’s hydrochloric acid. Better than taking medications, most of which have a knock-on effect which can mess with the normal functions of the body. And chalky antacid tablets can lead to painful kidney stones. This helped me and friends of mine going through reflux and heartburn problems — and you lose nothing by trying a natural aid before heading down the prescription route. Also pressure applied to the P6 acupressure point can alleviate an attack. Good luck!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Wonderful stuff, Jane. I’m a huge fan of going the natural route first. I tried what I knew to try…I love getting to hear about even more natural stuff. I’m going to look all this up, since I’m still prone to heartburn ever since being pregnant.


  4. I would be interested in why Protomix is considered safe for pregnancy but not breast feeding. During pregnancy most drugs a mother takes go straight through the placenta in the same blood volume. However, the vast majority of drugs are safe for breast feeding because only very small molecules can make it into breast milk, and of those that can (alcohol for instance) they are consumed by the baby as a very dilute solution. To continue using alcohol as an example, if you’re blood alcohol volume is 0.5% while pregnant, so is your baby’s. If you have the same blood alcohol vol during breasteeding, the baby is only drinking a solution that’s 0.5% alcohol (no worse than some gripe waters).


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Jennifer, Protonix is one of the meds with large enough molecules that it does not pass through the placenta. I didn’t start taking it until after I had a placenta. But it does pass through breastmilk, which is why I added that note.


  5. Jillian Dodd - Glitter, Bliss and Perfect Chaos says:

    I had bad heartburn with my first pregnancy, but not my second. Not sure why. Antacids didn’t seem to help. Sitting upright helped, but I can’t sleep that way. Surprisingly what helped me was just eating more. Love your Saturday posts.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I’m not surprised eating more helped. I think keeping something on your stomach is one of the number one ways to combat nausea/stomach issues. But I had a hard time when laying down – I’d reflux nearly every time before I got the Protonix.


  6. SarahB says:

    Thanks for such an informative article! I am just finishing up my first trimester and have experienced a little bit of heartburn, but nothing even close to what I experienced two years ago when I had gall bladder problems. It felt like a volcano erupted every time I swallowed anything, even water. I was also diagnosed with a hiatal hernia that the doctor wanted to fix at the same time as he removed my gall bladder, but I turned it down because one of the side-effects of the surgery was that I would never be able to throw up. As much as I hate throwing up, I know there are good reasons the body is designed to do this and I didn’t feel comfortable messing with that! A good thing I made that choice because after the gall bladder surgery, my heartburn immediately decreased with no medication. Also, as miserable as I’ve been with my morning sickness, I can’t imagine how much worse it would have been to not have the ability to actually throw up, because I always feel so much better afterward.
    I’m sorry that you’ve had such a hard time with the heartburn. Even though I wasn’t pregnant at the time, I definitely know what you’re going through, and I’m glad you found some relief!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      You are VERY welcome, Sarah. I would have made the same choice you did. As a migraine sufferer, there’s times when nothing helps as much as throwing up. Wow, I never knew that about the hiatal hernias….

      My baby is a toddler now, but I started blogging about the experience because I’m writing a memoir for high-worry pregnancy and it’s helping me to get it all organized. Thanks for sharing your experience!


  7. You may wonder why a man my age is reading your series, but I keep recommending it to young women. I’m sending the link to two today. Will also be pimping the book when it comes out. You’re doing fantastic work here, Jenny.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      And here I’ve just been thinking it’s because you’re a supportive friend! (And I was right, since you’re spreading knowledge and cheer amongst all the pregnant ladies you know. 🙂 )

      Thanks, David!


  8. drimhof says:

    Hey Sis,
    I loved this blog!! My pregnant patients all complain of these issues. The article on back pain is excellent as well. Chiropractic care and massage, of course are great places to start when you have back pain. Your chiropractor can do a lot to support the musculoskeletal and nervous systems through the changes of pregnancy. Keeping the spine subluxation free and coaching the patient through exercises can really make a difference during the last three months especially. A great remedy to try to sooty heartburn alley is aloe juice. It comes in many forms and can really help. It’s used to help end stage cancer patients and patients struggling through difficult chemo treatments that have trouble swallowing due to esophageal irritation.


  9. Ack! Heartburn! I’ve had a little on and off w/ this wee one, but last month I had a severe bout that I was SURE was going to kill me! I finally gave in and drank baking soda and water…so very gross, but the relief was nearly orgasmic. 🙂 Thankfully, we haven’t revisited that kind of heartburn since.


  10. Hi Jenny. Boy, you just had it all in pregancy. But, hummmm… I take omeprazole for acid reflux … I wonder if I might be … no, no, it can’t be!



  11. I have to tip my hat to all women who have been pregnant and had heartburn. Before December, I maybe had heartburn four times a year that required a quick fix of 2 Rolaids. Then, in December, I had a horrible flare up of acid reflux. It was so bad, we went to the ER. We didn’t know what was going on. Was it a heart attack? Was it heartburn? It was heartburn…but I’ve never been so miserable in my life. I couldn’t sit or lay down; I paced the house for hours. I was nauseous but couldn’t throw up and my chest felt like I had an internal heating pad underneath the breast plate. Pregnant women are amazing for dealing with this!!!


  12. Pingback: A Little Crazy, but Mostly Grateful « Broken Condoms

  13. This is a great way of sharing information to other women especially soon to be moms. Heartburn is quite common to pregnant women and there are many ways to handle it. You should always consult your doctor first to make sure that it won’t affect the baby and the pregnancy. Nice tips here jenny. Hope you can share more..


  14. Jenny king says:

    High quality aloe Vera juice or apple cider vinegar! Completely natural and very effective ways to combat heartburn.


  15. Katie says:

    Someone mentioned that taking flaxseed was a good food to ingest while pregnant. That is not true! Flaxseed and flaxseed oil actually causes preterm labor! I used to take both everyday and when my doctor asked what supplements I was taking she told me to stop immediately! Do not take the chance of going into early labor! Stop taking flax now!


Comments are closed.