Heartburn During Pregnancy: Causes & Treatments

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

One of the many unwanted symptoms of carrying a child is heartburn during pregnancy. On top of the stress of carrying a child, fluctuating hormones and weight, and the impending life change of having a child, you also need to handle the pain and discomfort of heartburn. For women who suffer from this common condition, it is important to understand some of the causes, symptoms, risk factors, and means of both treating and preventing this problem.

What is Heartburn during Pregnancy?

Heartburn during pregnancy is the same as heartburn at any other point in life, but it can be particularly annoying for women who are also suffering through morning sickness and nausea. Heartburn is a situation in which the valve that separates the stomach and the esophagus opens, allowing some of the stomach acid and bile to pass up from the stomach into the esophagus. This highly acidic substance irritates the lining of the esophagus, resulting in a burning sensation in the chest. Despite the name, heartburn is actually not connected to the heart in any way. [1]

A pregnant woman holding her stomach while sitting

Constipation may cause severe pain in pregnant women. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Causes of Heartburn during Pregnancy

Pregnant women are more susceptible to heartburn for a number of reasons, including their hormonal fluctuations and the physical changes within their body.

Hormones – When you become pregnant, your body releases an excess of progesterone, which is able to relax the valve separating the stomach and esophagus, allowing more of the stomach acid to pass into that sensitive organ. [2]

Physical Changes – The growth of your baby in the womb can shift certain organs, and can put pressure on the stomach and intestines, which may even force food back into the esophagus, exacerbating symptoms of heartburn. [3]

Diet – As with any normal case of heartburn, the spicy or acidic foods that you eat can make your condition worse, and will make flare-ups more common. [4]

Symptoms of Heartburn during Pregnancy

For many women, heartburn during pregnancy is their first experience with this condition, which can extend for quite a distance up the esophagus, even to the bottom of the throat. While this problem is usually more common in the second half of the pregnancy, the symptoms can begin even earlier for some women and can include painful swallowing, sore throat, abdominal pain or a hoarse voice, in addition to the burning sensation in your chest.

Burning Sensation – This is the most common complaint of heartburn, and is similar to a tightness, combined with heat in your chest and lower throat, often taking your breath away with its rapid onset. [5]

Abdominal Pain – Consistent heartburn will lead to abdominal pain, due to the inflamed tissues in your gut.

Swallowing – If the heartburn has reached the middle of your esophagus or throat, it can lead to irritation of the delicate tissues of the throat, making it painful or difficult to swallow. [6]

Hoarse Voice – As a result of a sore throat and raw tissues of the esophagus, the quality of your speech can be affected, typically dropping to a more hoarse or gruff pitch.

Treatments and Home Remedies

The most effective treatments and home remedies for heartburn during pregnancy include the use of heartburn medication, ginger, papaya and sugarless gum, among others.


Over-the-counter medication is the most common treatment for heartburn, but as with any medicine during pregnancy, be sure to clear its use with your doctor, even something as simple as Tums to relieve indigestion. [7]


Papaya has been used for generations as a traditional remedy for heartburn. The active ingredient in this fruit, papain, can help to balance the acidity levels in the stomach, provided the fruit is ripe enough to eat. [8]

Sugarless Gum

This basic post-meal snack is an excellent option to prevent heartburn during pregnancy. This type of gum helps to reduce acidity by increasing the production of saliva in the mouth. This can help settle the stomach and cleanse the esophagus of irritating acid.


One of the most well-known remedies for gastrointestinal problems, ginger contains gingerol and other organic compounds that can reduce inflammation, balance acidity levels, and eliminate stomach upset. [9]

Prevention of Heartburn During Pregnancy

The best way to handle this type of heartburn is to prevent it before it ever occurs, by drinking water, eating smaller meals, managing your diet more carefully and propping yourself up while sleeping, among others.


It is important that you drink water both before and after meals, but cut down while you’re actually eating. When you mix too much water and food at the same time, it can cause your stomach to swell, which leads to heartburn symptoms. [10]

Smaller Meals

Despite the additional nutritional needs of pregnancy, you shouldn’t eat huge meals, as your stomach won’t be able to properly digest all of it at once, resulting in a backup – and heartburn. Eat small meals or snacks more regularly so your stomach doesn’t get overwhelmed. [11]

Diet Management

Eating a healthy pregnancy diet might mean eliminating some of your favorite foods, particularly if they include hot wings, jalapeño peppers, citrus fruits or other extreme flavors.

Sleep Position

You should prop your upper back slightly above your stomach, which will keep the stomach acid where it should be as you sleep, ensuring a restful night’s sleep. [12]

Eating Speed

Don’t be in such a rush! Slowing down your meals will help you chew things better, improve digestive efficiency, prevent overeating and lower your risk of heartburn during pregnancy. [13]

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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