Pregnancy is one of the most magical, yet potentially most uncomfortable times in a woman's life. If you suffer from heartburn, you know how painful and frustrating it can be, particularly if it interferes with sleep or creates stress around eating time. Small changes in diet through removing certain problem foods and eating other soothing foods offer a natural means to combat this common pregnancy complaint.
How and When to Eat
One reason that women get heartburn during pregnancy is due to the body's ability to slow digestion in order to absorb and assimilate as many nutrients as possible for the developing fetus. This altered digestive process leads to the contents of the stomach being emptied more slowly, as well as to a delayed release of food from the esophagus into the stomach. This can lead to heartburn. Large or heavy meals can exacerbate this problem by increasing the amount of food that needs to transit from the esophagus to the stomach and then from the stomach into the small intestine. According to the American Pregnancy Association, eating small, frequent meals can help to alleviate heartburn during pregnancy. Staying upright after eating and avoiding eating before bedtime or naps can help, too.
The Bitter Truth
Heartburn is usually caused by a lack of hydrochloric acid in the stomach, not from an excess of acid, says holistic practitioner Chris Kessler. For this reason, foods that increase HCL can help the stomach to effectively digest food, possibly preventing heartburn in the first place. Dandelion is a bitter herb that can also be used as a food – the leaves can be eaten raw in salad or cooked like chard, and the roots can be roasted and used as a tasty coffee alternative. According the the University of Maryland Medical Center, dandelion was traditionally used by American Indians to treat heartburn. The bitter taste of dandelion and other greens like arugula and mustard may help to stimulate the secretion of digestive enzymes, including HCL, which can head off heartburn before it begins.
The American Pregnancy Association suggests taking a tablespoon of honey in a glass of warm milk to soothe the symptoms of heartburn. The APA also recommend yogurt to settle the stomach and reduce heartburn, since the probiotics found in yogurt seem to help support healthy digestive function. It is important to drink plenty of water when you are pregnant; however, to prevent heartburn during pregnancy, you may want to avoid drinking huge amounts of water at once to prevent overfilling the stomach. That can put pressure on the esophageal sphincter and make heartburn worse.
Remember to eat multiple small meals throughout the day to stay nourished and allow for the body's slower digestive transit time. Water should be consumed in the same way -- be sure not to drink a lot of water just before or during a meal, as it can dilute HCL, possibly triggering heartburn. Natural remedies like slippery elm powder can coat the esophageal wall and stomach, soothing the symptoms of heartburn, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. While not technically a food, slippery elm powder can be stirred into oatmeal or apple sauce or added to smoothies to prevent and treat heartburn during pregnancy.