Heartburn During Pregnancy: Causes and Treatment

Whether you’ve experienced heartburn before or are completely new to the condition, read on to learn more about the causes of heartburn during pregnancy, and what you can do to prevent or treat it.

What Is Heartburn and What Are the Symptoms?

If you’ve never had heartburn before, you might think it has something to do with your heart. Actually, it has nothing to do with the heart! Heartburn happens when the contents of your stomach flow backward up into your esophagus (the tube that connects the stomach to the throat). Sometimes heartburn is referred to as acid reflux. Because the acids from your stomach irritate your esophagus, when you have heartburn you feel a burning sensation in your throat and chest at the heart level, hence the name. More than 50 percent of moms-to-be experience heartburn at some point during pregnancy. For some of them, it can be the first time they experience heartburn, which can be startling and even worrisome.

In Summary

Heartburn affects more than half of all moms-to-be at some point during pregnancy. It has nothing to do with the heart; rather, the condition occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus. Heartburn is sometimes called acid reflux.

What Causes Heartburn During Pregnancy?

Heartburn is most likely to strike at certain times during pregnancy when certain changes take place in your body:

  1. During the first trimester, a surge in pregnancy hormones can cause your digestive system to slow down in order for nutrients to absorb more slowly into your bloodstream and eventually get to your baby. This means it takes longer for your stomach to empty, sometimes leading to indigestion and heartburn. Pregnancy hormones also relax the valve between your stomach and esophagus, so acid is more likely to leak into your esophagus.

  2. Then, as your pregnancy progresses into the third trimester, your growing uterus pushes your stomach higher up. This pressure on your stomach can force stomach acids back up into your esophagus, leading to heartburn.

In Summary

During the first trimester, pregnancy hormones surge, which slows your digestive system and relaxes the valve between your stomach and esophagus, sometimes leading to heartburn. During the third trimester, pressure on your stomach from your growing uterus can also cause heartburn.

Preventing Heartburn

Here are 10 tips for preventing heartburn during your pregnancy:

1. Eat smaller, more frequent meals, such as five or six small meals spaced out over the course of the day versus the typical three square meals2. Although you’re probably already avoiding certain foods during your pregnancy, consider avoiding the following foods, as they are known to trigger heartburn:

  1. Fatty, greasy, or fried foods

  2. Coffee and tea

  3. Chocolate

  4. Peppermint

  5. Alcohol

  6. Carbonated soft drinks

  7. Sweet foods

  8. Acidic foods like citrus fruits, juices, tomatoes, and red peppers

  9. Spicy and highly spiced foods.

3. Eat slowly and chew thoroughly4. Drink lots of fluids, especially water5. Drink between meals and not during them6. Avoid slouching, especially during mealtimes, as it can put pressure on your stomach7. Wait at least an hour after eating before lying down8. Avoid eating and drinking three hours before bedtime—an empty stomach produces less acid, so heartburn is less likely to occur and disrupt your sleep9. Avoid movements that might exacerbate heartburn, such as bending over at your waist—instead bend with your knees10. When lying down or sleeping, prop yourself up with pillows so that your head, neck, and shoulders are elevated. You might even consider raising the head of the bed four to six inches with a stack of books or wood blocks. Using a wedge-shaped pillow to prop you up can also help prevent heartburn.

In Summary

To help prevent heartburn, avoid trigger foods, eat smaller meals, drink lots of water, maintain good posture when eating, and prop yourself up with pillows when lying down.

Treating Heartburn

The prevention measures listed above may help relieve your symptoms, but if your heartburn is very bothersome, contact your healthcare provider, who may recommend medication. Don’t take antacids or acid blockers without checking with your provider first. Most over-the-counter antacids are safe to use during pregnancy, but you'll want to avoid those that contain aluminum or aspirin. Some antacids have high levels of sodium and can increase fluid retention or worsen constipation. This is why it’s best to consult your provider first about which medication is safe for you to take while pregnant.

In Summary

Check with your healthcare provider for recommendations before taking any over-the-counter antacid. Not all antacids are safe to use during pregnancy.


A completely horizontal sleep position can exacerbate heartburn during the night. This is why it’s recommended that you prop up your head, neck, and shoulders with pillows, or raise the head of the bed three to four inches with a stack of books or wood blocks.

The Bottom Line

Heartburn can be an annoying sensation, especially if you’re already dealing with a lot of other pregnancy symptoms. Luckily, there are effective ways to help prevent and treat heartburn. You can start by making a few changes to your diet and eating smaller meals spaced throughout the day. If heartburn tends to strike at night, propping yourself up and not eating in the hours before bed can help prevent it. If home remedies don’t help, contact your healthcare provider, who can recommend a safe over-the-counter antacid. Soon enough, you’ll be holding your baby in your arms and heartburn—as well as other pesky pregnancy symptoms—will be a distant memory!

How We Wrote This Article The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

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