Heartburn During Pregnancy

Heartburn is a common symptom during pregnancy. Changes in your hormones and body shape can contribute to acid reflux and heartburn. A few dietary and lifestyle changes can usually prevent and relieve symptoms.


What is heartburn during pregnancy?

Heartburn — the burning feeling in your chest and throat that often accompanies indigestion — is common during pregnancy. Though it’s called “heartburn,” it’s unrelated to your heart. The burning sensation happens because of acid reflux, which occurs when stomach acid flows from your stomach up through your food tube (esophagus) in your throat.

You don’t have to be pregnant to experience acid reflux or heartburn. But changes during pregnancy, including increased hormones and the pressure of the fetus on your stomach, can increase your chances of having it.

How common is heartburn during pregnancy?

Researchers estimate that anywhere from 30% to 80% of pregnant people experience heartburn. That’s a wide margin, but most people who’ve given birth will tell you that heartburn is one of the many pregnancy discomforts to look out for.

You’re more likely to have it if you’ve been pregnant before or if you had issues with heartburn before pregnancy. But for many people, pregnancy marks their first exposure to heartburn symptoms.

When is heartburn worse in pregnancy?

You can get heartburn at any time during pregnancy, but it’s more common in the third trimester, when your uterus is the largest and places the most pressure on your stomach. Your chances of getting it increase as your pregnancy progresses. As you get farther along, bouts of heartburn may become more frequent and feel more painful.


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Symptoms and Causes

What does heartburn during pregnancy feel like?

Heartburn symptoms usually show up within 30 minutes to an hour after eating, but sometimes there’s a delay. Movement can affect your symptoms, too. Symptoms are more likely to show up when you bend over, lie down or lift something after eating.

Heartburn symptoms include:

  • A burning feeling in your chest that may rise through your throat.
  • A sour or bitter taste in the back of your throat.
  • Feeling bloated (pressure or fullness in your belly).
  • Regurgitating (bringing swallowed food back up).
  • Frequent burping.
  • Feeling sick.

The burning may feel painful, but it’s usually mild pain.

What causes heartburn during pregnancy?

Heartburn happens during pregnancy because of changes in your body associated with supporting a fetus.

  • Hormone levels changing: Your hormone levels change during pregnancy, affecting how you tolerate and digest foods. The hormones slow your digestive system. Food moves more slowly, increasing the likelihood of bloating, heartburn and constipation.
  • Esophageal sphincter relaxing: The hormone progesterone can cause your lower esophageal sphincter (LES) to relax. This muscle sits between your stomach and esophagus. Typically, it opens to allow food to pass from your esophagus to your stomach. It closes to prevent stomach acid from seeping into your esophagus. Progesterone can cause the LES to relax too much, so it doesn’t seal to prevent the backflow of stomach acid.
  • Uterus enlarging: As the fetus grows, your uterus gets bigger. It can crowd your stomach, causing stomach acid to flow upward, into your esophagus. That’s why heartburn is more common during the third trimester, the last few months of pregnancy. The fetus and your uterus are biggest then, crowding your other organs.


Management and Treatment

How can I relieve heartburn during pregnancy?

If you need immediate heartburn relief, try these natural remedies:

  • Eat yogurt or drink some milk.
  • Stir in a tablespoon of honey into warm milk and drink it.
  • Chew gum to neutralize (weaken) the acid.

Can I take over-the-counter antacids to relieve heartburn during pregnancy?

Nonprescription heartburn relievers, such as Tums® or Maalox®, can help you feel better. But talk to your healthcare provider before taking antacids or any other medicine for heartburn. Most studies that test drug safety don’t include pregnant people because they don’t want to pose risks to study participants. This means there’s still a lot we don’t know about medication safety during pregnancy.

Scientists do know that when it comes to heartburn relief medicines, the risk of harm to the fetus tends to be most significant during the first trimester. Afterward, safety depends on various factors, including the specific ingredients in an antacid. Also, some are safe to take in small amounts, while others you should avoid completely.

Your healthcare provider can advise you on treatments that provide relief while keeping the fetus safe.

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How can I prevent heartburn during pregnancy?

Changing your eating and drinking habits can reduce your risk. To prevent heartburn:

  • Eat several small meals throughout the day instead of three large ones.
  • Eat more slowly than you’re used to doing.
  • Sit up straight when you eat.
  • Drink between (not during) meals.
  • Avoid fried, spicy or fatty foods.
  • Avoid citrus fruits and juices.
  • Avoid carbonated beverages, like soda or pop.
  • Limit caffeine.

Other lifestyle changes include being mindful of your body position and timing yourself before you lie down after eating. To prevent heartburn:

  • Wait at least two hours to lie down after you’ve eaten.
  • Wait for three hours after eating before going to bed.
  • Keep the head of your bed higher than the foot of your bed (or try placing pillows under your shoulders to raise your upper body).

You should also avoid smoking or drinking alcohol. Besides causing heartburn, smoking or vaping and drinking alcohol during pregnancy can cause health problems for the fetus.


Outlook / Prognosis

How long will I have heartburn during pregnancy?

The good news is that things usually return to normal once you have your baby. So, if you didn’t have heartburn before pregnancy, there’s a good chance you won’t have it after. You can get back to your routine.

Living With

When should I call my healthcare provider about heartburn during pregnancy?

Talk to your provider if your heartburn persists despite lifestyle changes. They can prescribe medications that are safe to take while pregnant.

You should also call your provider if you:

  • Have heartburn that wakes you up at night.
  • Have trouble swallowing.
  • Spit up blood.
  • Have black poop.
  • Are losing weight.

Heartburn can have similar symptoms to a heart attack. If you’ve never had heartburn before and you’re having chest pains, call your provider or head to the nearest emergency room.

Additional Common Questions

What is acid reflux during pregnancy?

People use “heartburn” and “acid reflux” to mean the same thing. They’re related but not quite the same.

  • Acid reflux refers to the LES not tightening as it should. This muscle allows the stomach acid to travel from your stomach up to your esophagus. (Gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, is a severe form of acid reflux.)
  • Heartburn, the feeling of pain or burning in your chest, is a symptom of acid reflux.

Does heartburn mean preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is a potentially fatal pregnancy complication that can happen about midway through pregnancy. It involves having dangerously high blood pressure and various symptoms, including headaches, blurry vision, pain on your right side and, sometimes, heartburn.

If burning in your chest is your only symptom, it’s likely a sign of heartburn, not preeclampsia. Also, while heartburn affects most pregnant people, preeclampsia affects only about 8% of deliveries.

Still, if you have any questions whatsoever, don’t take chances. Contact your healthcare provider.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Heartburn during pregnancy is a common pregnancy symptom, especially in the third trimester. You can prevent or get relief from heartburn during pregnancy by making a few changes to your diet, like eating more frequent but smaller meals and avoiding spicy or fried foods. Some yogurt or milk may also help relieve symptoms. Before taking antacids during pregnancy, check with your provider for the safest option.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 04/26/2024.

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