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How to Find Relief for Heartburn and Indigestion During Pregnancy

Digestive symptoms are par for the course in pregnancy. But that doesn’t mean you have to suffer.
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By Lexi Dwyer, Contributing Writer
Updated December 13, 2023
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Morning sickness might get all the headlines, but anyone who has suffered from heartburn in pregnancy or pregnancy indigestion can tell you these digestive issues are no walk in the park. The acid reflux, the bloating, the all-around discomfort—it’s no fun. If you’re struggling and looking to quell the burn (and all the other accompanying symptoms), know that you’re not alone: Heartburn and indigestion during pregnancy are normal and common. Of course, that doesn’t mean you should have to put up with unpleasant symptoms morning, noon and night. So what causes indigestion or heartburn during pregnancy—and what are the best strategies for coping? Read on for expert tips to help get you some sweet relief.

Heartburn vs Indigestion in Pregnancy

What is the difference between heartburn and indigestion in pregnancy? Heartburn is a “painful, burning feeling in the middle of your chest,” according to Cleveland Clinic. It’s not really in your heart; rather, it’s caused by stomach acid rising into your esophagus. Indigestion, on the other hand, is pain or discomfort after eating, such as an upset stomach, notes Cleveland Clinic.

“People use heartburn and indigestion interchangeably,” explains Sara Twogood, MD, FACOG, a board-certified ob-gyn in Los Angeles and co-founder of Female Health Education. “Indigestion is the general term that can include heartburn as well as other symptoms. Heartburn is the burning symptom itself.”

Pregnancy Heartburn Symptoms

Heartburn is a common complaint among expectant moms. “More than half of women experience heartburn, also called gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD, during pregnancy,” says Jill Purdie, MD, medical director and ob-gyn at Northside Women’s Specialists in Georgia.

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So what does heartburn feel like when you’re pregnant? There’s no way to sugarcoat it: The feeling can be downright miserable. “Heartburn feels most often like a burning sensation in the chest. The sensation can rise into the throat, accompanied by a bitter or sour taste in the back of the throat and mouth,” says Kecia Gaither, MD, associate professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Weill Cornell Medicine and director of perinatal services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln. Besides that telltale fiery feeling, there are a few other symptoms you might experience. “Some women also complain of the feeling of fullness in their upper abdomen or food not staying down well. Chronic dry cough may also be a symptom of heartburn,” adds Purdie.

Pregnancy Indigestion Symptoms

Unlike pregnancy heartburn symptoms—which are specific to the chest—pregnancy indigestion symptoms typically include abdominal discomfort, says Twogood. This can feel like stomach pain, bloating, gas and nausea, according to Cleveland Clinic. But indigestion—just like heartburn—can include a burning feeling in the chest, accompanied by a “feeling like food is coming up,” Twogood adds.

When Do Heartburn and Indigestion Start in Pregnancy?

Although heartburn and indigestion in pregnancy can happen at any time, they tend to start in the second trimester, as your “uterus comes out of the pelvis and becomes part of the abdomen,” says Purdie. In other words, you’re more likely to feel digestive symptoms as your bump grows and all that shifting and organ-rearranging happens behind the scenes.

What Causes Heartburn During Pregnancy?

Heartburn is, in its simplest terms, a boundary problem. When you’re not pregnant, your lower esophageal sphincter, which is the muscle between the stomach and the esophagus, stays tightly closed. This helps it do its job, which is to prevent what’s in the stomach from moving up into the esophagus. But as with many things during pregnancy, things change. “Due to hormonal influences during pregnancy, the sphincter doesn’t close completely at times—it relaxes, which leads to reflux or heartburn,” says Gaither. “Added to this is uterine enlargement, which can impinge on the stomach, thus pushing stomach acids upward.”

What Causes Indigestion During Pregnancy?

Like heartburn in pregnancy, indigestion during pregnancy is generally caused by hormones—specifically elevated levels of progesterone, says Twogood. While progesterone is critical to support baby in pregnancy, it can also contribute to digestive issues. As your belly and uterus grow, the pressure from the uterus can also contribute to indigestion, she adds.

How to Find Pregnancy Heartburn and Indigestion Relief

When it comes to heartburn and indigestion in pregnancy, there’s no need to suffer in silence. There are several proactive and reactive steps you can take to get pregnancy heartburn relief and indigestion relief—but it might involve some trial and error and a few conversations with your doctor.

Certain over-the-counter and prescription medications can help treat heartburn and indigestion symptoms in pregnancy, and some simple diet and lifestyle changes may work to prevent episodes in the first place. Here are a few tips and suggestions.

Can you take Tums while pregnant?

Yes, antacids like Tums are generally safe to take during pregnancy, says Twogood. Still, Gaither advises speaking to your doctor first before taking any medications. If over-the-counter medications don’t do the trick, you can ask your doctor about prescription options.

Other pregnancy-safe heartburn and indigestion medicine

Rolaids, Mylanta and Maalox are also considered generally safe during pregnancy. If you’re not getting relief from other medications, you can also try Pepcid or Prilosec. Be sure to consult with your provider.

What heartburn medications should you avoid during pregnancy?

Any medications containing aspirin are generally not recommended during pregnancy, according to Mayo Clinic. This includes Alka-Seltzer, which is frequently used to treat heartburn.

Can you prevent pregnancy heartburn and indigestion?

While you may not totally be able to prevent heartburn and indigestion in pregnancy, you can definitely work to reduce discomfort and eliminate episodes with a few diet and lifestyle changes. Here are some steps to take:

  • Pace your eating. For starters, eat slowly and space meals out, so you’re having smaller and more frequent portions, instead of a few big ones, advises Purdie.
  • Avoid common food triggers. Try to steer clear of common heartburn-causing meals and snacks. These include foods that are spicy, fatty and overly acidic, says Twogood. (Sadly, this might mean limiting your coffee intake, which you should do in pregnancy anyway.)
  • Consider adding milk or yogurt to your diet. Besides giving you a calcium boost, Gaither says that dairy products “can decrease acidity in the stomach.”
  • Say no to alcohol and tobacco. Tobacco and alcohol are two common heartburn contributors that should go—although, if you’re pregnant, there are even better reasons to eliminate them from your routine.
  • Don’t eat before going to sleep. Looking for pregnancy heartburn relief at night? For starters, give yourself a buffer between your last bite and bedtime. Purdie also recommends elevating your head, neck and shoulders in bed, either with several bed pillows, a wedge pillow or blocks positioned under the bed. A study published in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology found that sleeping at an approximately 8-inch incline reduced esophageal acid exposure in patients with heartburn.

When to See a Doctor About Pregnancy Heartburn and Indigestion

If your symptoms change suddenly or you can’t control them with over-the-counter medications, you should see your provider, says Twogood. Symptoms like vomiting, weight loss and black tarry stool should also prompt a doctor’s visit, she says.

If heartburn or indigestion in pregnancy are making your experience less than comfortable, talk to your doctor about next steps for relief. And take comfort knowing that for most people, these symptoms will resolve after they deliver. Then you’ll have a whole new (but way more delightful!) reason for waking up at night.

Pregnancy Heartburn and Indigestion FAQs

You might still have questions about heartburn and indigestion in pregnancy. Here are a few common ones, answered.

Is heartburn a sign of pregnancy?

The short answer? Nope. “Heartburn is a symptom of pregnancy but not necessarily a sign of pregnancy, since not all pregnant women experience it,” explains Purdie. There are many other reasons you might experience heartburn, including consuming coffee, spicy foods or heavy meals—or even feeling anxious. Heartburn in early pregnancy is common, but you don’t have to be expecting to experience it, so don’t make any assumptions. And, FYI, the same goes for indigestion: “Indigestion is such a vague and common symptom; I’d never suggest people assume they’re pregnant because of it,” says Twogood.

Does heartburn during pregnancy mean baby will have a lot of hair?

If you’ve complained about your pregnancy heartburn in front of friends or family, it’s possible someone in your social circle has proclaimed that baby will definitely be born with a luscious head of hair. Amazingly, research suggests there may be truth to this. The authors of a study in the journal Birth looked at self-reported perception of heartburn with perceived baby hair volume (ranked by impartial judges), and found a significant “relationship between heartburn severity and hair volume.” That said, Purdie explains that the hormone causing the relaxation of the esophagus, leading to heartburn, also causes hair to grow more rapidly.

Is heartburn in early pregnancy a sign of twins?

A lot of people seem to bring up this pregnancy myth too. “Not necessarily—although twins is a risk factor for potentially having worse symptoms,” says Twogood.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

Sources

Kecia Gaither, MD, MPH, FACOG, is a double board-certified physician in ob-gyn and maternal fetal medicine specialist and the director of perinatal services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln. She also serves as an associate professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Weill Cornell Medicine. She received her medical degree from SUNY Health Science Center in Syracuse, New York, and holds a master’s degree in public health.

Jill Purdie, MD, is an ob-gyn at Northside Women’s Specialists in Georgia. She received her medical degree from the Medical College of Georgia and completed her residency at Memorial Health University Medical Center.

Sara Twogood, MD, FACOG, is a board-certified ob-gyn at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, and has more than 20 years of experience in medicine. She is co-founder of Female Health Education, an educational resource and program for female and sexual health. She’s also the author of LadyParts Blog.

Cleveland Clinic, Heartburn, January 2023

Cleveland Clinic, Indigestion (Dyspepsia), December 2022

National Health Service England, Indigestion and Heartburn in Pregnancy, November 2023

National Childbirth Trust, Pregnancy Hormones: Progesterone, Oestrogen and the Mood Swings, July 2018

Northeast Georgia Physicians Group, Safe Medications During Pregnancy

Mayo Clinic, Is It Safe to Take Aspirin During Pregnancy?, November 2022

Garden City Hospital, Safe Medications During Pregnancy

Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, Effect of Bed Head Elevation During Sleep in Symptomatic Patients of Nocturnal Gastroesophageal Reflux, November 2011

Birth: Issues in Perinatal Care, Pregnancy Folklore Revisited: The Case of Heartburn and Hair, November 2006

Learn how we ensure the accuracy of our content through our editorial and medical review process.

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