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Indigestion and heartburn in pregnancy

3-minute read

Many women experience indigestion and heartburn while they are pregnant, which can be painful or uncomfortable. There are ways to help avoid or treat indigestion and heartburn, especially if it is mild. Sometimes the feeling of heartburn can be confused with a more serious condition called pre-eclampsia.

Indigestion, also called 'dyspepsia', is a feeling of pain or discomfort in the stomach (upper abdomen, or, tummy). This mostly occurs after eating or drinking but can happen some time after.

If you have indigestion in the early stage of your pregnancy, this may be caused by changes in your hormone levels. In the second or third trimester, indigestion becomes more common and may be caused by your baby pushing up against your stomach. As many as 8 in 10 women may have indigestion during their pregnancy.

Symptoms of indigestion may include:

  • heartburn
  • reflux or regurgitation (food coming back up from your stomach)
  • burping
  • feeling heavy, bloated or full
  • feeling sick
  • vomiting

Heartburn is a burning pain in the throat or chest, behind the breastbone, caused by stomach acid coming up the oesophagus (the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach) and irritating the lining.

In pregnant women, indigestion and heartburn can be caused by:

  • eating a big meal
  • eating high-fat foods
  • eating chocolate or peppermint
  • drinking fruit juice or caffeinated beverages (coffee, tea, cola drinks)
  • doing physical activity soon after eating
  • bending over
  • feeling anxious

It's a good idea to take note of the particular foods, drinks or activities that give you indigestion while you are pregnant.

Avoiding indigestion and heartburn

If your symptoms are mild, it's possible that changes to your diet or lifestyle may help prevent indigestion and heartburn. You could try:

  • eating smaller meals, more often
  • avoiding eating just before bed
  • avoiding foods and drinks that you suspect give you heartburn
  • not drinking a lot of coffee at the end of the day
  • avoiding eating and drinking at the same time, which can make your stomach more full
  • sitting up straight while eating, and not lying down after a meal
  • chewing gum, which may cause you to produce more saliva to help neutralise the acid
  • stop smoking
  • raise the head of your bed by 10 to 15cm
  • sleep on your left side

If your indigestion is not helped by diet and lifestyle changes, or your symptoms are more severe, your doctor or midwife may suggest that you take a medicine for indigestion that is safe to use during pregnancy. Medicines can neutralise the acid in your stomach, reduce the amount of acid produced by your stomach and stop the acid rising into your oesophagus.

Heartburn symptoms and pre-eclampsia

If your heartburn symptoms don't go away with medicine, it's important to see your doctor as it may be a sign of something more serious, such as pre-eclampsia. A pregnant woman with pre-eclampsia usually has high blood pressure and problems with her kidneys. Pre-eclampsia could also seriously affect a woman's liver, blood and brain. Any pregnant woman can experience pre-eclampsia – almost 1 in 20 Australian women will develop it.

Because pre-eclampsia is dangerous for both you and your baby, you should let your doctor know if your heartburn medicine is not working. This is especially important if you're also feeling very unwell or you have:

  • sudden swelling of your hands, feet or face
  • a headache that doesn't go away with simple painkillers
  • problems with your eyesight such as blurring or seeing flashing lights or dots
  • a strong pain below your ribs

Find out more about how pre-eclampsia is treated here.

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 to speak to a maternal child health nurse.

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Last reviewed: May 2020


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