Heartburn is a common complaint during pregnancy. About half of all pregnant people are affected, especially during the third trimester. Most often, the heartburn symptoms begin around the twelfth week of pregnancy. Over time, it often becomes stronger and stops after birth. Heartburn is very unpleasant, but luckily it’s harmless. Typical symptoms are pain and burning behind the breastbone and in the oesophagus. In addition, sour and bitter belching can occur. The reflux of stomach contents into the oesophagus or mouth is also particularly unpleasant.

As the fetus grows, your body creates the space it needs. As a result, your muscles and tendons become softer. Various hormones are involved in this change. The most important is progesterone. It also affects the sphincter muscle between the stomach and esophagus. Sometimes this sphincter can no longer reliably stop the reflux of stomach acid into the oesophagus. Thus the aggressive acid irritates the mucous membrane in the throat and pharynx. The symptoms are more pronounced when the patient is lying down, because the acid can then flow back into the oesophagus more easily. As pregnancy progresses, the uterus presses against the stomach as it keeps expanding. In addition, the fetus’s kicks and movements grow stronger and can push the contents of the stomach into the esophagus.

Mild heartburn can often be reduced simply. For example, it may help you to eat several small meals instead of a few large ones. You should chew your food carefully. Eating your last meal of the day three to four hours before bedtime can give your stomach an extra break. Many heartburn sufferers also find it helpful to change their sleeping position. You can try sleeping with your upper body slightly elevated, or you can lie on your left side. Then the esophagus is above the stomach and gravity prevents reflux.

Some foods in particular increase the formation of gastric acid. These include carbonated drinks, heavily spiced meals, sweets and sugar. Also avoid walnuts, citrus fruits and apples. Fatty foods and mayonnaise, fatty cold cuts, fatty meats and pastries with lots of butter or margarine also do not help heartburn. Greasy foods also include fried foods. Vegetables you should be watch out for if you suffer from very severe heartburn include cabbage, corn and beans. The best thing to do during pregnancy is to observe which foods make you feel worse and find a way of eating that doesn't put unnecessary stress on you.

Many people affected by heartburn rely on bananas for acute discomfort. They contain a lot of potassium. They therefore have a basic effect that can help neutralise the aggressive stomach acid. Bananas also contain substances that support the production of a protective layer that covers the stomach lining. Spinach, celery, rocket, cucumber, beetroot, carrot and potato also have a neutralising effect. Almonds are also alkaline and can help with heartburn despite their high fat content. Chew three to five almonds for this. The well-chewed nuts bind excess gastric acid in the stomach. Oatmeal or a piece of white bread can also have a similar effect.

You can get over-the-counter, acid-binding medications, such as medicinal clay, at the pharmacy. You can get advice there on what other gentle remedies to take during pregnancy or you can ask your midwife for tips. If your symptoms become very distressing, by all means seek medical advice. Please refrain from taking any medication during pregnancy without first talking to your midwife or doctor about it.