burn baby burn

At this stage, I am well and truly feeling one of the more common but less delightful effects of pregnancy – heartburn (also known as indigestion or acid reflux).

Never having experienced before I truly feel for those who suffer from heartburn all the time, and don’t have the relief of knowing it will go away when the baby comes – as I expect mine to.

After having a chat with my doc about it, I’m at least relieved that nothing is wrong (and even more relieved that most heartburn relief/medication is in the safest category for medication during pregnancy).

He did say to keep an eye out for any additional pain in the right hand side of the abdomen, as this could indicate pre-eclampsia, but otherwise heartburn is a perfectly normal and safe side-effect of pregnancy.

So what’s with the ‘burn?

According to bubhub, food usually travels into the stomach where it is digested via stomach acid – luckily for (most of) us the oesophagus has a valve which closes this acid off from the rest of the body.

But in pregnancy?  Firstly, an increase in the hormone progesterone – a relaxant (the same one that loosens up your limbs and multiplies your clumsy factor) – relaxes the valve that closes off the stomach.

This means the valve is less effective at stopping stomach acid heading up the oesophagus, going as far as the mouth.

The good news?  While heartburn may be uncomfortable for now, labour would be a lot less comfortable without the muscle-relaxant qualities an increase in progesterone brings.

Another more obvious reason for the ‘burn? A simple issue of space – the rapidly growing bundle of joy is pushing everything else out of position – including the digestive tract.

And while he advised they are generally safe (check with your doctor or pharmacist first though), to avoid having to take heartburn meds in the first place my doc recommended avoiding high fat foods (ummm…) and chewing extremely well so the stomach doesn’t have to work so hard (didn’t want to tell him you can’t chew ice cream).

Bubhub has some further steps to avoiding heartburn (after reading these, it seems that I might be the culprit here, and cant blame it all on poor old bub!):

  • Avoid trigger foods – some women will experience pregnancy heartburn no matter what they eat, but some foods are known to trigger an episode or make your symptoms worse. As a general rule, avoid fatty foods, chocolate, coffee and cola drinks. Alcohol and cigarettes should be avoided during pregnancy regardless, but they are also associated with acid reflux.
  • Eat in moderation – as large meals will put additional pressure on your stomach’s sphincter valve. You may also experiment with an elimination diet. An elimination diet is a trial and error process – remove one potential trigger food from your diet at a time and see if this helps reduce the incidence and severity of your heartburn. With persistence you may be able to identify which foods are the most problematic for you and eliminate them from your diet permanently.
  • Let gravity help – it can be hard enough getting comfortable with a growing baby inside, but try sitting and sleeping in a more upright position. Gravity will help your stomach acid and food stay where they belong. Try using an extra couple of pillows on your bed at night – it may only take a small elevation to put a stop to nighttime heartburn.
  • Watch your weight – keeping weight within recommended limits will further help reduce pressure on your digestive system. Speak to your health care provider if you’re concerned about your weight.
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