Your pregnancy—now in its 28th week, early in the third trimester—has been a journey, but you could do without the sensation you have felt during the past two nights. As you drift off to sleep, an uncomfortable heat begins in your chest and moves up your throat, leaving you with an unpleasant taste in your mouth and soreness when you swallow. Sitting upright and sipping water sometimes keeps the burn at bay.
Reflux, often referred to as “heartburn,” may feel like it is occurring in the chest, but the trouble actually begins in the stomach and esophagus. Reflux occurs when the muscle flap that normally slams shut after food and liquids enter the stomach does not close properly, allowing stomach acid to move upward into the esophagus.
I’ve never had heartburn—why is it happening now? That question has been on your mind since you first felt the burning sensation. Elevated levels of the hormone progesterone during pregnancy can cause the valve between the stomach and esophagus to relax on the job, according to the American Pregnancy Association. The muscle no longer creates a tight seal between the stomach and esophagus, allowing acid to enter the tube.
Pregnancy can also bring other reflux risk factors into play. Satisfying cravings for certain foods and drinks may bring on the burn, and obesity is a risk factor, too.
Eat, Drink, But Be Wary…
Rule No. 1 of preventing reflux during pregnancy: Be mindful of what you put in your body. Different foods and drinks trigger reflux in different people, but in general, it’s smart to steer clear of spicy, acidic or fried foods, as well as caffeinated and carbonated beverages. Your favorite Thai dish, your grandmother’s fried chicken, the oranges you eat as a snack at work—you may have to place all of them off limits until baby arrives.
Reflux is most likely to strike during the second and third trimesters, according to the March of Dimes, so put these tips into practice by week 14 of pregnancy:
• Avoid eating at least two hours before bedtime.
• Drink beverages between meals rather than with meals.
• Eat small, frequent meals or snacks throughout the day and dine slowly.
• Use a stack of pillows to elevate your head during sleep or raise the head of your bed so your body is slightly lower than your head.
• Wear loose clothes.
If you develop heartburn during pregnancy and changing what you eat does not help, speak with your obstetrician before taking medications to treat the condition.