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Heartburn during pregnancy

Pregnant woman with heartburn sitting down holding her bump and a glass of orange juice
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Having heartburn when you’re pregnant is common. One study found that 80% of women will have heartburn at some time during their pregnancy.

Heartburn is also called indigestion or acid reflux. It can be an uncomfortable sensation, but there are ways that can help to make it better with simple dietary and lifestyle changes. If these don’t work for you, your doctor may prescribe medications to help manage heartburn during pregnancy.

Here, we’ll answer some of your questions about heartburn when pregnant:

  • What causes heartburn during pregnancy?
  • When does heartburn during pregnancy start?
  • What are the symptoms of heartburn?
  • What can you do to prevent or ease the symptoms of heartburn?
  • When to get medical help for heartburn

What causes heartburn during pregnancy?

Heartburn is one of the most common gut symptoms during pregnancy. There are a few possible causes:

  • Changes to hormones during pregnancy can cause the relaxation of muscles around the top of the stomach, letting acid move upwards 
  • Your growing baby presses against your stomach 
  • Hormones can also slow down the digestive process

A few things can make indigestion more likely, like if you’ve experienced heartburn previously or if you’ve been pregnant before. You may also find you experience more indigestion as you approach your due date.

When does heartburn start during pregnancy?

Heartburn can happen at any stage of your pregnancy, although it is more common to experience heartburn from week 27 up until your due date. 

The good news is that pregnancy-related heartburn usually disappears soon after your baby arrives.

Heartburn symptoms during pregnancy

Heartburn symptoms are usually triggered by eating or drinking and can come on soon after

Symptoms include:

  • A burning feeling or pain in your chest
  • Feeling overly full, heavy or bloated
  • Excessive burping or belching
  • Feeling sick or being sick after eating

While the symptoms of heartburn can be unpleasant, complications from heartburn are rare.

Heartburn relief during pregnancy

You don’t need to put up with heartburn during pregnancy. Studies have suggested that heartburn is better treated, as it can lead to nausea and vomiting.

Two treatments are often used first for heartburn during pregnancy:

  • Antacids, which neutralise the acid in your stomach
  • Alginates, which try to stop the acid in your stomach from coming back up

If these remedies don’t work, your doctor might prescribe medications like ranitidine or omeprazole, which are commonly used in pregnancy.

You can also try complementary therapies like acupuncture, although there is currently no evidence that these will help with reflux symptoms.

If you want to take any over-the-counter treatments for heartburn, make sure to check the label or speak to your doctor or pharmacist to make sure that it’s okay to use when you’re pregnant.

How to avoid heartburn during pregnancy

If you have heartburn during your pregnancy, there are a few simple things you can do to reduce it.

Making small changes to how you eat and drink:

  • Try to eat a healthy diet, avoiding fatty, spicy or rich foods
  • Manage portion size – you’re more likely to get heartburn if you’re overly full
  • Eat smaller meals often, rather than large meals three times a day
  • Avoid eating within the three hours before bedtime
  • Sit up straight when eating

Some pregnant women find that sleeping slightly upright with an extra pillow helps reduce heartburn during the night.

Stopping smoking during pregnancy

Quitting smoking when pregnant is advised for your health and the health of your baby.

Smoking can also increase the chance of heartburn when you’re pregnant. The chemicals inhaled in cigarette smoke cause the muscles between the stomach and throat to relax. This can let stomach acid move upwards, causing heartburn.

There are lots of different ways to get help if you want to give up smoking, including from our Stop Smoking Service, your GP, midwife or other NHS services.

Stop smoking tool

When to seek medical help for heartburn during pregnancy

For some women, heartburn will be manageable with simple changes. But if you find the symptoms are still present after altering your diet or lifestyle, there’s plenty of support available to help. 

You should also see your GP or midwife if:

  • You have difficulty eating or keeping food down during pregnancy
  • You’ve been losing weight in your pregnancy
  • You’re having stomach pains when pregnant

As well as talking through any changes you can make, your doctor will review the medications you take to see if they might be a cause of heartburn.

A final note on heartburn during pregnancy

While symptoms may be unpleasant, heartburn rarely leads to more serious medical problems. There are several simple tweaks you can make to do to reduce your symptoms.

If these don’t work, don’t hesitate to contact your GP or midwife.

If you’d like more tips and advice, explore the mother and baby sections of our blog for articles about pregnancy and the flu and pneumonia and pregnancy.