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Preventing Nighttime Heartburn During Pregnancy

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Many people who suffer from heartburn will also experience those symptoms at night. And when it comes to pregnancy and heartburn, even women who have never experienced it before, will have heartburn for the first time while they are pregnant. It is also likely, with nearly 80% of people who suffer from heartburn also having it at night, women who are pregnant will also have nighttime heartburn at some point during their pregnancy.

How can pregnancy cause heartburn? Heartburn during pregnancy occurs for a number of reasons. 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. Also more pressure is put on your stomach as your body changes and your baby grows. This, in turn, can force stomach contents through the LES and into your esophagus.

You can try the following tips to help common heartburn that you may experience at night.

What, How and When You Eat

Sometimes nighttime heartburn can be the result of something we eat during the day.

  • Eat 6 smaller meals each day instead of 3 larger ones. This will help keep the stomach from becoming too full, and help prevent excessive production of stomach acid.

  • If one of your meals ends up being larger than the others, aim to eat that meal for lunch instead of supper.

  • Avoid late-night snacking. Eating shortly before going to bed can increase your chances of experiencing heartburn because of increased stomach acid levels.

  • Wait at least two to three hours after eating to go to bed. Lying down with a full stomach can cause stomach contents to press harder against the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), increasing the chances of refluxed food.

  • Limit the amount of citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruits, that you eat.

  • Avoid spicy foods, and cut back on chili and pepper. Spicy foods are known to cause heartburn symptoms in many GERD patients.

  • Limit acidic foods, such as tomatoes and oranges, as well as choices that are based on these foods (such as ketchup, spaghetti sauces, etc.)

  • Stick with lean meats. Fattier meats are heartburn triggers for many people.

  • Limit fried foods, especially if they are greasy. Greasy foods, such as French fries, can trigger heartburn.

  • Limit the amount of chocolate you eat. No matter how good it tastes, chocolate is a heartburn trigger for many GERD sufferers.

  • Avoid alcohol. Alcohol increases the production of stomach acid, and relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter (LES).

  • Avoid caffeinated drinks, such as colas and coffee. Caffeine relaxes the LES, increasing the risk of acid reflux.

  • Drink warm liquids. Drinking a glass of lukewarm water or herbal tea after a meal can dilute and flush out stomach acid.

  • Drink plenty of water, which helps with digestion. Do not drink too much water at one time, however. This just increases the stomach contents and can actually worsen heartburn symptoms. It is better to drink smaller amounts throughout the day rather than large amounts less often.
 

Other Lifestyle Tips for Calming Nighttime Heartburn

  • Sleep with your head and shoulders elevated. Lying flat allows stomach contents to press against the LES. Also, having the head higher than the stomach allows gravity to keep stomach contents where they belong.

  • Sleep on your left side. Studies have shown that this position aids digestion and helps with the removal of stomach acid. Sleeping on the right side has been shown to worsen heartburn.

  • Make sure your bed clothes are loose-fitting. Clothing that fits tightly around the abdomen -- such as tight belts and waistbands -- will squeeze the stomach, forcing food up against the LES. This can cause food to reflux into the esophagus.
     
  • Relax! Stress may lead to an increase in stomach acid production. It is also known to lead to behaviors that can trigger heartburn, such as overeating.

  • Get regular exercise, which can help with digestion. Just make sure to wait at least two hours after a meal before breaking a sweat. Exercising on a too-full stomach can trigger heartburn.
     
  • If you continue to have heartburn symptoms after trying all of these suggestions, talk to your doctor about taking an antacid (such as Tums, Maalox, Mylanta, Rolaids, or Gaviscon) or another medication that might be useful and safe in pregnancy. It's especially important to discuss new medications with your doctor when pregnant in order to ensure the health of both you and your baby. Antacids will work very quickly on heartburn you may be experiencing before you go to bed, but if you are taking an antacid more than once or twice a week, you should see your doctor about another treatment plan.
 

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For more information, you can read this article on diet changes to prevent pregnancy heartburn and the article on other lifestyle modifications to prevent pregnancy heartburn will give you many ways to help you control heartburn during your pregnancy.

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Sources:

"Healthy Pregnancy" U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. 13 Nov 2013

"Heartburn, Hiatal Hernia, and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)." NIH Publication No. 03­0882 June 2003. NIH Publication No. 03­0882. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). 13 Nov 2013

"Nighttime Heartburn" The American Gastroenterological Association. Paraesophageal Hiatal Hernia 13 Nov 2013.

 

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