Early Pregnancy Signs Heartburn

If you’re pregnant and experiencing common heartburn symptoms, think back over what you ate and drank in the hours before the heartburn occurred.  If you’re pregnant, your body releases a hormone that relaxes the muscles between the stomach and oesophagus. This allows food to travel up from the stomach into your oesophagus faster than normal. It’s not uncommon for this to cause heartburn because the food is travelling quickly into the lower part of your oesophagus where the acid level is highest.

During early pregnancy, heartburn is one of the most commonly reported discomforts. Heartburn is caused by increased production of the stomach’s acid. During pregnancy, levels of the hormone progesterone may rise rapidly, which relaxes the muscle in the lower part of your oesophagus and increases pressure on your stomach. This pressure can push caustic digestive acids into your oesophagus and irritate its lining, causing heartburn.

Is Heartburn And Nausea A Sign Of Pregnancy

Most women experience heartburn and indigestion while they’re pregnant, especially in the second and third trimesters. These symptoms can be uncomfortable and disruptive, but there are steps you can take to ease your discomfort.

Indigestion also called heartburn or acid reflux, is common in pregnancy. It can be caused by hormonal changes and the growing baby pressing against your stomach. 

You can help ease indigestion and heartburn by making changes to your diet and lifestyle, and there are medicines that are safe to take in pregnancy.

Symptoms of Heartburn During Pregnancy

Common heartburn symptoms reported by pregnant women include:

  • A burning feeling in the chest just behind the breastbone (the sternum) that occurs after eating and lasts a few minutes to several hours
  • Chest pain, especially after bending over, lying down, or eating
  • Burning in the throat — or hot, sour, or salty-tasting fluid at the back of the throat
  • Belching
  • Chronic coughing
  • Hoarseness
  • Wheezing or other asthma-like symptoms

Prevention and Treatment of Heartburn During Pregnancy

To ease heartburn during pregnancy without medications, you should try the following:

  • Eat several small meals each day instead of three large ones.
  • Avoid fatty, fried, spicy, or rich foods.
  • Avoid chocolate, coffee, caffeine, and mint.
  • Drink less fluid while eating. Drinking large amounts while eating may increase the risk of acid reflux and heartburn.
  • Don’t lie down right after eating.
  • Keep the head of your bed higher than the foot of your bed.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothing. Tight-fitting clothes can increase the pressure on your stomach and abdomen.
  • Try to sleep on your left side. Your stomach is on the left, so it’s harder for acids to get into the esophagus at this angle.
  • Chew a piece of gum. This creates more saliva with bicarbonate, which neutralizes the acid in the esophagus when swallowed.

If your heartburn persists, see your doctor. They may recommend over-the-counter antacids or prescribe drugs that are safe to take during pregnancy. Pregnancy-related heartburn usually disappears after childbirth.


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When to Call Your Doctor

Reach out to your doctor if you:

  • Want to take an antacid. Some are not recommended during pregnancy
  • Have severe hoarseness, wheezing, vomiting, or a hard time swallowing
  • Have trouble sleeping because of heartburn

Heartburn Before Period or Pregnant

Heartburn is mostly caused by the hormone progesterone, which rises after ovulation. If pregnancy occurs, progesterone levels keep rising. This means heartburn can start very early. Progesterone slows down the digestive system, which can cause various symptoms in the body, including heartburn

Many women experience heartburn in the days or weeks before their period. This is often due to the hormone progesterone, which rises after ovulation. Up to 70 percent of women report heartburn around this time. But that’s not all. If you’re pregnant, levels of progesterone keep rising, which means heartburn can start very early. Progesterone slows down the digestive system, meaning food and drink move through your body more slowly. In turn, you may need to pass wind more frequently and feel stomach cramps and pains throughout the day.

Heartburn is most common after ovulation, as hormone levels are changing. The hormone that causes heartburn also slows down your digestive system, which can cause other symptoms such as bloating and constipation.

Despite its name, heartburn has nothing to do with the heart. (Some of the symptoms, however, are similar to those of a heart attack or heart disease.) Heartburn is an irritation of the esophagus that is caused by stomach acid and is a common pregnancy complaint, especially in the third trimester when the growing uterus places pressure on the stomach.

With gravity’s help, a muscular valve called the lower esophageal sphincter, or LES, keeps stomach acid in the stomach. The LES is located where the esophagus meets the stomach — below the rib cage and slightly left of center. Normally it opens to allow food into the stomach or to permit belching; then it closes again. But if the LES opens too often or does not close tight enough, stomach acid can reflux, or seep, back into the esophagus and cause a burning sensation.

Occasional heartburn isn’t dangerous, but chronic heartburn can indicate serious problems, such as gastritis or gastroesophageal reflux disease, also called GERD. Heartburn is a daily occurrence for 10% of Americans and 50% of pregnant women. It’s an occasional nuisance for another 30% of the population.

If you didn’t have heartburn before you were pregnant, it will probably go away when your baby is born.

Symptoms of indigestion and heartburn

Symptoms of indigestion and heartburn include:

  • a burning sensation or pain in the chest
  • feeling full, heavy or bloated
  • burping or belching
  • feeling or being sick
  • bringing up food

Symptoms usually come on soon after eating or drinking, but there can sometimes be a delay between eating and developing indigestion.

You can get symptoms at any point during your pregnancy, but they are more common from 27 weeks onwards.

Things you can do to help with indigestion and heartburn

Changes to your diet and lifestyle may be enough to control your symptoms, particularly if they are mild.

Eat healthily

You’re more likely to get indigestion if you’re very full.

If you’re pregnant, it may be tempting to eat more than you would normally, but this may not be good for you or your baby.

Find out more about a healthy diet in pregnancy and foods to avoid.

Change your eating and drinking habits

You may be able to control your indigestion with changes to your eating habits.

It can help to eat small meals often, rather than larger meals 3 times a day, and to not eat within 3 hours of going to bed at night.

Cutting down on drinks containing caffeine, and foods that are rich, spicy or fatty, can also ease symptoms.

Keep upright

Sit up straight when you eat. This will take the pressure off your stomach. Propping your head and shoulders up when you go to bed can stop stomach acid coming up while you sleep.

Stop smoking

Smoking when pregnant can cause indigestion, and can seriously affect the health of you and your unborn baby.

When you smoke, the chemicals you inhale can contribute to your indigestion. These chemicals can cause the ring of muscle at the lower end of your gullet to relax, which allows stomach acid to come back up more easily. This is known as acid reflux.

Smoking also increases the risk of:

There’s lots of help available to stop smoking. Talk to your midwife or call the NHS Smokefree helpline on 0300 123 1044. Find out more about stopping smoking in pregnancy.

Avoid alcohol

Drinking alcohol can cause indigestion. During pregnancy, it can also lead to long-term harm to the baby. It’s safest to not drink alcohol at all in pregnancy.

Find out more about alcohol and pregnancy

When to get medical help

See your midwife or GP if you need help managing your symptoms or if changes to your diet and lifestyle do not work. They may recommend medicine to ease your symptoms.

You should also see your midwife or GP if you have any of the following:

  • difficulty eating or keeping food down
  • weight loss
  • stomach pains

Your midwife or GP may ask about your symptoms and examine you by pressing gently on different areas of your chest and stomach to see whether it’s painful.

If you’re taking prescription medicines

Speak to your GP if you’re taking medicine for another condition, such as antidepressants, and you think it may be making your indigestion worse. They may be able to prescribe an alternative medicine.

Never stop taking a prescribed medicine unless you’re advised to do so by your GP or another qualified healthcare professional who’s responsible for your care.

Medicines for indigestion and heartburn

Medicines for indigestion and heartburn during pregnancy include:

  • antacids – to neutralise the acid in your stomach (some are available over the counter from a pharmacist)
  • alginates – to relieve indigestion caused by acid reflux by stopping the acid in your stomach coming back up your gullet

You may only need to take antacids and alginates when you start getting symptoms. However, your GP may recommend taking them before symptoms come on – for example, before a meal or before bed.

If you’re taking iron supplements as well as antacids, do not take them at the same time. Antacids can stop iron from being absorbed by your body.

If antacids and alginates do not improve your symptoms, your GP may prescribe a medicine to reduce the amount of acid in your stomach. 2 that are widely used in pregnancy and not known to be harmful to an unborn baby are:

Causes of indigestion in pregnancy

Symptoms of indigestion come when the acid in your stomach irritates your stomach lining or your gullet. This causes pain and a burning feeling.

When you’re pregnant, you’re more likely to have indigestion because of:

  • hormonal changes
  • the growing baby pressing on your stomach
  • the muscles between your stomach and gullet relaxing, allowing stomach acid to come back up

You may be more likely to get indigestion in pregnancy if:

  • you had indigestion before you were pregnant
  • you’ve been pregnant before
  • you’re in the later stages of pregnancy

Video: Eating well on a budget

In this video, a dietitian gives advice on how to eat healthily on a budget.Play VideoMedia last reviewed: 13 January 2021
Media review due: 13 January 2024

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