Marie Louise is The Modern Midwife. She began her midwife training a decade ago, and since then has helped mums deliver hundreds and hundreds of babies. She’s been a working midwife for the NHS for 7 years, she’s also a hypnobirthing teacher and author of the book ‘The Modern Midwife’s Guide to Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond’. Marie has partnered with Biamother to offer her expert guidance to pregnant and postnatal mothers, and today she’s here to demystify and offer solutions to the vexing problem of pregnancy heartburn.
Pregnancy heartburn: Why it’s happening and how to cope
Heartburn is probably one of the most common ailments women suffer during pregnancy. While it is not threatening to your pregnancy or your baby, it sure can be uncomfortable you.
Although it is mostly associated with late pregnancy, heartburn can strike within the first four weeks of pregnancy (and it certainly did for me!) The reason this happens so early on in pregnancy is due to the sudden release of hormones whose job is to allow your uterus to expand—creating soft, safe nest that keeps your little baby safe and secure. In terms of human biology, what happens in a woman’s body during pregnancy is truly magnificent! Let’s go into some of that now and examine what is causing your heartburn.
The science behind it
Relaxin is the hormone that really helps your body make room for your baby, and as you may already know (or can guess) it helps your muscles and ligaments relax and soften. Levels of the hormone are known to be very high in the first trimester because they aid implantation of your baby into your uterus, the growth of the placenta and, most importantly, inhibit contractions. However, the hormone does not just target your uterus and surrounding muscles but tends to affect the entire body – including your digestive system and oesophageal sphincter. Because this muscle between the stomach and oesophagus has now relaxed, those acids may now move more freely back up into the oesophagus and throat, causing the painful burning sensation of heartburn.
To add to that, gastric emptying, orocecal transit time and gut motility are slowed during pregnancy due to the sudden increase of progesterone – the hormone that is vital for pregnancy progression. In layman’s terms, your digestive system gets sluggish in pregnancy; it goes from sports car on the motorway speed to a coach up a hill. Although progesterone is mainly to blame (but not entirely) this slower pace also means that your digestive tract can absorb more nutrients, which is great for your growing baby, but the side effects of this can be heartburn and constipation for you. Lastly, as your baby grows and you get bigger there is less room in your body for your usual daily digestion. Your stomach is literally squished!
Now you know the science and a bit about the biology behind it, let’s move onto what you can do to help prevent and manage heartburn.
You can help reduce the acidity in your stomach naturally with diet. Greasy or oily food containing high amounts of saturated fat are the most commonly reported triggers for heartburn, alongside spicy food and acidic drinks like orange juice. As boring as it may be at times try a plain diet, especially in the evening, it will help manage any heartburn discomfort during the night.
Try to eat little and often rather than bigger meals. It’s best to aim for five to six smaller meals instead of two to three bigger meals. By doing this, you are working with the new slower speed of your digestive system and this alone can really make a difference.
Position and timing:
Be conscious of your position while eating. Try to sit upright to take pressure off your stomach and aid good digestion. Avoid eating a meal less than two hours before bed because laying down soon after eating can really affect your symptoms and further help stomach acid to leak back up into your oesophagus.
Some drinks may help, such as fresh ginger or chamomile. Many women love a chamomile tea in the evenings to help wind down and it has the added benefit of soothing your stomach. Peppermint is thought to help settle the stomach, although it can cause more aggravation for some women so this could be a bit of trial and error. Warm milk or yoghurt with a spoonful of honey can also really help and be a lovely relief from that burning sensation.
Gaviscon Original is safe to take in pregnancy, and if it’s bothering you most around bedtime, have a bottle at arm’s reach so you can grab it without having to getting up in the night. You can also request medication from your GP like omeprazole or ranitidine, but I would recommend trying everything else before taking these.
Overall pregnancy affects your entire body, and it is just incredible what your body is able to do and how well it is able to adapt to the vast physiological changes you experience – although it may not feel like it at times! The more you understand why and how these changes happen the more you can work with your body and be more in tune with what’s going on. Stay informed and ask your midwife as many questions as you need to. No question is ever a silly question.
Biamother is the world’s first app that cares for new mums, and during the current global pandemic, we’re especially focused on ensuring that pregnant and postnatal women isolating at home can still access expert health guidance. We are a team of maternal health experts, all women, mostly mothers, offering guidance and recommendations to help you eat, move and sleep better, as well as personalized workouts you can do at home that adapt to suit your changing needs, body type and concerns.
Biamother believes a healthy baby begins with a healthy mother, so to help you feel safe and confident, we are now offering the Biamother app free through the end of June 2020. Download Biamother today on the app store.
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