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Can changes in diet stop pregnancy heartburn?

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Updated November 29, 2009

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Question: Can changes in diet stop pregnancy heartburn?
Answer: Many women, even if they have never experienced it before, will suffer from heartburn while pregnant. Increased levels of hormones in your body while pregnant can soften the ligaments that normally keep the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) tightly closed. If the LES relaxes at inappropriate times, food and stomach acids can reflux back up into your esophagus and throat. In addition, more pressure is put on your stomach as your body changes and your baby grows, which can force stomach contents through the LES and into your esophagus.

There are ways to reduce your chances of experiencing heartburn while pregnant, and modifying your diet is one of them.

  • Don't eat foods that are known heartburn triggers. These include chocolate, citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes and tomato-based products, mustard, vinegar, mint products, and spicy, highly seasoned, fried, and fatty foods. (Of course, pregnancy cravings may trump your best efforts, but try to keep this in mind.)
  • Don't eat big meals. Eat several small meals throughout the day instead.
  • Avoid caffeinated beverages such as coffee, tea, and cola, as these can relax the LES and allow acid to reflux back into the esophagus. (All pregnant women should limit caffeine intake, regardless of heartburn.)
  • Avoid alcohol. While your doctor may say that you can have the very occasional glass of wine while pregnant, avoiding alcohol all together can help with heartburn. Alcohol relaxes the LES and can increase the production of stomach acid. (All pregnant women should be aware of the risks of regular alcohol intake during pregnancy.)
  • Wait at least two to three hours after your last meal before going to bed.
  • It's important to drink plenty of water during pregnancy (8 to 10 glasses daily) along with other fluids, but don't drink these only at mealtimes. Large quantities of fluids can distend your stomach, putting more pressure on the LES and forcing it to open inappropriately. Drink some of your fluids in between meals.

For more information on all aspects of pregnancy, please check out the resources provided by About's Guide to Pregnancy & Childbirth.

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Sources:

"Healthy Pregnancy" U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. 25 Oct 2009

"Heartburn, Hiatal Hernia, and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)." NIH Publication No. 03­0882 June 2003. NIH Publication No. 03­0882. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). 25 Oct 2009

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