How Can A Pregnant Mother Deal For Heartburn?

Despite its name, heartburn is not related to your heart. Heartburn is a form of indigestion caused by acid regurgitation into the esophagus. Approximately 20% of Americans suffer from a weekly occurrence of uncomfortable heartburn and it’s common among pregnant women. While occasional heartburn isn’t dangerous, chronic heartburn could lead to other issues. It’s important for a pregnant woman to know and understand heartburn.

Is It Important To Treat Heartburn In Pregnancy?

This is a more complicated question than it may appear.  People can and do live with heartburn so why not just put up with it until the pregnancy is over.  In pregnancy, heartburn is frequently associated with nausea and vomiting and the combination can have a serious impact on the pregnant mother’s quality of life.  Frequently by reducing heartburn, the nausea and vomiting of pregnancy is lessened as well.  This is beneficial for both mother and baby, so treating heartburn is a good idea.

Is Heartburn a Common Problem In Pregnancy?

Heartburn seems to be an almost universal problem in pregnancy.  One study of over 1000 women revealed that 75% had frequent heartburn during their pregnancy.  Another study showed that 95% of pregnant women had either heartburn or nausea and vomiting.  Latino mothers seem to be most at risk possibly because of dietary preferences.  Heartburn is also associated with these characteristics:

  • Being overweight at start of pregnancy
  • Excessive weight gain during pregnancy
  • Mother over the age of 30
  • Mothers who smoke
  • Pregnant with a female baby

If I Am Pregnant And Have Heartburn, Can I take Over The Counter Antacids For Relief?

About half of all women with heartburn take something to ease the discomfort.  Before reaching for a drug start with lifestyle modified by eating smaller and more frequent meals, avoid eating near bedtime, elevate the head of the bed and sleep on your left side.  If you take an antacid you will find that they contain calcium, magnesium or aluminum.  Animal studies have shown these compounds are safe in pregnancy.   However we do not recommend any containing aluminum because it is a known neurotoxin and can cause damage to the brain in high doses.  Calcium carbonate is safest but do not exceed 1200 mg of calcium from antacids a day because it can cause kidney stones.  Because magnesium is a relaxant, too much can result in a weak, floppy baby at delivery.  Keep your magnesium consumption to no more than 600 mg a day via antacids.

Are Prescription Medications For Heartburn Safe In Pregnancy?

We all have occasional heartburn, perhaps after eating too much on a Fourth of July celebration.  However, what if the heartburn is constant for the nine months of pregnancy, are any prescription medications safe?  The New England Journal of Medicine published a large study of more than 800,000 pregnancies in Denmark from 1996 until 2008.  The study concluded there was no significant increase in risk of major birth defects from proton pump inhibitors.  This was very good news because proton pump inhibitors are the largest class of drugs prescribed for heartburn and were used by almost one percent of the women in the study.  Other studies have reached the same conclusion about the widely used drugs in the H2 blocker category. Still, to be safe, do not used any prescription drug for heartburn in the first trimester.

Heartburn is uncomfortable, but can be prevented and treated. But in the case of a pregnant woman, it’s best to be careful when dealing with your heartburn.

[Feature Image Courtesy of sailom / FreeDigitalPhotos.net]

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