Heartburn is a common complaint of pregnancy. Heartburn may be more common in pregnancy due to the large amounts of circulating progesterone in the body of the pregnant woman. Progesterone has the effect of relaxing tissues including the lower esophageal sphincter meaning that it is a lot easier to experience reflux of acidic stomach contents. The pressure of the growing uterus may also play a role in the upward movement of stomach contents–there’s just not enough room for some women! For some women heartburn is just an occasional nuisance brought on by a meal that is too spicy or acidic, while for other women heartburn is an ordeal brought on by just about anything a woman eats making her quite miserable.
If you recognize that a certain food or type of foods causes heartburn, the easiest remedy to eliminate these foods while you are pregnant. Common offenders are spicy foods, tomatoes and fatty foods. Sometimes, however, the heartburn is completely unpredictable and is seemingly caused by a very bland food. We’ve even had pregnant women tell us that water triggers heartburn. This can be really frustrating.
Another strategy successfully employed by many pregnant women is to avoid lying down or reclining in the time immediately following eating. If the growing baby and looseness in the g.i. tract is causing stomach acid to back up into the esophagus this makes sense. Plan your meals for a little bit earlier in the evening to avoid being in a reclining or supine position right after eating.
Some moms tell us that drinking milk or eating a little yogurt or ice cream can ease their heartburn. If dairy is a part of your diet, this can be an easy fix. Milk and yogurt can definitely be a healthy part of your diet and even a little bit of ice cream once in awhile is fine.
Thankfully, there are a number of simple, affordable, safe remedies that a woman can use to ease heartburn symptoms during pregnancy, without resorting to acid blocking OTC or prescription medications. You may have to try more than one to find the remedy that works for you. These same remedies can be used by anyone experiencing heartburn or GERD throughout the lifecycle.
Raw Almonds–Raw almonds are a folk remedy for heartburn. Using raw almonds for heartburn has the added benefit of providing mother and baby with excellent nutrition. Almonds are rich in protein, fiber and high quality fat, as well as high amounts of magnesium, calcium, iron, trace minerals and lots of B vitamins. Almonds are a super food! Raw almonds contain cyanogenic glycosides, a type of plant chemical found in many plants and plant parts in the rose family, of which almonds are a member. Many herbalists use these plants for symptoms characterized by heat, inflammation and burning sensations, sounds like heartburn, right? Herbalists use these plants to sedate over-active processes in the body, reduce spasm and inflammation. We speculate that the cyanogenic glycosides increase parasympathetic nervous system activity and improve digestion. Cyanogenic glycosides in normal, moderate amount, like eating a handful of almonds every day, are well tolerated and processed by the body.
Papaya Enzymes and Apple Cider Vinegar— While it may seem counterintuitive, heartburn and acid reflux may not mean you have too much stomach acid. Sometimes low stomach acid can actually contribute to heartburn. Having robust digestion and helping things digest faster and better help some women reduce heartburn symptoms papaya enzyme tablets and apple cider vinegar are two affordable, widely available and safe remedies for heartburn. You can purchase papaya enzyme tablets at the local co-op. They are chewable and slightly fruity flavored. You can take them as needed for symptom relief. While they don’t work for everyone, many of our clients tell us they find relief with the papaya tablets. Apple cider vinegar is a traditional, folk remedy that is used to improve sluggish, weak digestion. I suggest buying the naturally fermented apple cider vinegar available at the co-op. A cloudy “mother” should be present in the bottom of the bottle. Mix the apple cider vinegar with some water. You can make it more palatable wit a little fresh squeezed lemon juice and some honey if you need to. Try it! If it doesn’t work for you, move onto one of the other types of remedies on this list.
Slippery Elm Lozenges–Slippery Elm is a soothing, mucilaginous herb that can ease the sensations of heartburn. It ‘s a safe and gentle remedy derived from the inner bark of a widespread species of elm. Pregnant women can consume it without worry. It can also be given to babies and children. It has a slightly maple like flavor. Slippery Elm is available as a bulk herb which can be made into a tea or purchased as powder or in premade lozenges. I think the most convenient way to take Slippery Elm is as a lozenge. You can find these at the co-op often near the checkout. They are marketed as a lozenge for sore throats and coughs, but they work great for heartburn. You can suck or chew them– the texture is a lot like a Tums or Rolaids–whenever you have heartburn symptoms.
Yellow Dock–(Rumex crispus) is a great herbal ally in pregnancy. This is one of my favorite remedies for heartburn and acid reflux in the pregnant and non-pregnant alike. This classic western herbal remedy has a pronounced effect on the g.i. tract. Herbalists feel like it has a downward energy in the body reducing reflux as well as balancing bowel function. I recommend larger doses for constipation but also sometimes find that smaller doses can help people with rapid, crampy bowel movements. It’s not uncommon for herbs to act in this balancing fashion, being used for conditions on both ends of a spectrum. Yellow Dock is also a great blood builder and is a good choice for women with iron-deficiency anemia. Yellow Dock is not the sort of herb most people would enjoy as a tea. The flavor is pretty earthy, in fact, you might say like dirt plus something else you can’t quite put your finger on. Personally I find it interesting and not at all unpleasant as a tincture and that is the form I recommend for my clients. It’s easy to consume a suitable dose in just a few seconds with a tincture. Try 5-10 drops at first. If that isn’t quite enough to get the desired result, move up to 1/2 -1 dropperful.
With these remedies available most women can find relief from heartburn during pregnancy. Talk to your midwife or healthcare provider about natural or over the counter remedies you use during pregnancy.