During pregnancy, it’s normal to experience all sorts of aches and pains throughout the nine-month-and-a-bit stretch. As anyone who’s had to deal with heartburn during pregnancy will tell you, it’s one of the more memorable pregnancy symptoms … and not in a good way.
Indigestion and heartburn aren’t quite the same thing, although it’s easy to confuse the two. While people often use the terms interchangeably to describe the burning sensation in the chest that’s commonly associated with heartburn, indigestion isn’t related to stomach acid, while heartburn is. This article won’t cover indigestion, but we’ll focus on heartburn.
Heartburn is a symptom of both acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD), the scientific name given to the chronic form of acid reflux. But what’s the difference between heartburn, acid reflux, and GERD? “A small amount of reflux (stomach contents including acid) is considered normal,” explains Dr. Sara Twogood, a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist. “There are often no symptoms at all. Mild symptoms related to this physiologic reflux are referred to as heartburn. The symptoms are typically described as a burning sensation, usually after eating. We use the term ‘acid reflux’ because it is the stomach acids that cause the symptoms.
“GERD is typically both heartburn and regurgitation (the feeling that stomach contents come back up to the esophagus or mouth). When reflux causes troublesome symptoms and/or complications, that can be called GERD as well. An endoscopy (camera down the esophagus) is needed to see how severe GERD is.”
Heartburn is a common issue for women and people who menstruate, particularly during pregnancy. As one Flo user joked, “If you don’t have antacids sitting on your bedside table, are you even really pregnant?”
Try not to feel too disheartened if you experience heartburn during pregnancy. We understand that it can be incredibly challenging, but remember that you’re not alone. There are also numerous treatments available, both in terms of lifestyle changes you can make and over-the-counter medications.
With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at heartburn during pregnancy. What are the causes, and what can you do about it if you’re experiencing symptoms? Do any home remedies — which run the gamut from noshing on ice cream to elevating your head — really work? We asked Dr. Sarina Schrager, family medicine doctor and professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, to give us the lowdown on the causes and remedies for heartburn during pregnancy.