How to Prevent Nighttime Heartburn During Pregnancy

Tips to Stop Feeling the Burn at Night

A pregnant woman suffering from heartburn.
A pregnant woman suffering from heartburn. B2M Productions/Getty Images

In addition to all the changes pregnancy brings, heartburn might be one of them — even if you have never experienced it before. Nearly 80% of people who suffer from heartburn suffer mainly at night, which means that it is highly likely that women who are pregnant will also have nighttime heartburn at some point during their pregnancy.

The Link Between Pregnancy and Heartburn

How can pregnancy cause heartburn?

Heartburn during pregnancy occurs for a number of reasons. Increased levels of hormones in your body while pregnant can soften the ligaments that normally keep the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) tightly closed. If the LES relaxes at inappropriate times, food and stomach acids can reflux back up into your esophagus and throat. Also more pressure is put on your stomach as your baby grows. This, in turn, can force stomach contents through the LES and into your esophagus.

To help prevent and relieve common heartburn that you may experience at night, try the following nighttime heartburn prevention tips.

Using Food and Diet Changes to Prevent Heartburn

Sometimes nighttime heartburn can be the result of something you ate during the day, or even when you ate it.Try these food and diet tips:

  • Eat 6 smaller meals each day instead of 3 larger ones. This will help keep the stomach from becoming too full, and help prevent excessive production of stomach acid.
  • Make early meals larger. If you eat one or two large meals a day, aim to eat that meal for breakfast or lunch instead of supper.
  • Avoid late-night snacking. Eating shortly before going to bed can increase your chances of experiencing heartburn because of increased stomach acid levels.
  • Wait at least two to three hours after eating to go to bed. Lying down with a full stomach can cause stomach contents to press harder against the lower esophageal sphincter, increasing the chances of refluxed food.
  • Limit the amount of citrus fruits that you eat. Foods, such as oranges, lemons, and grapefruits, should be eaten sparingly.

  • Avoid spicy foods. Cut back on chili and pepper. Spicy foods are known to cause heartburn symptoms in many GERD patients.
  • Limit acidic foods. Tomatoes and oranges are acidic and can add to the acid levels in your stomach. Avoiding them, as well as choices that are based on these foods (such as ketchup, spaghetti sauces, etc.), will help lessen your heartburn.
  • Stick with lean meats. Fattier meats are heartburn triggers for many people.
  • Limit fried foods, especially if they are greasy. Greasy foods, such as French fries, can trigger heartburn.
  • Make chocolate a very special treat. No matter how good it tastes, chocolate is a heartburn trigger for many GERD sufferers.
  • Avoid alcohol. Alcohol increases the production of stomach acid, and relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter (LES).
  • Avoid caffeinated drinks. Caffeine, found in colas and coffee, relaxes the LES, increasing the risk of acid reflux.
  • Drink warm liquids. Drinking a glass of lukewarm water or herbal tea after a meal can dilute and flush out stomach acid.
  • Drink plenty of water, which helps with digestion. Do not drink too much water at one time, however. This just increases the stomach contents and can actually worsen heartburn symptoms. It is better to drink smaller amounts throughout the day rather than large amounts less often.

Lifestyle Changes for Calming Nighttime Heartburn

Sometimes you may do all of the above and heartburn will still be a nuisance. Try to make the below lifestyle changes a habit to help manage its occurrence:

  • Sleep with your head and shoulders elevated. Lying flat allows stomach contents to press against the LES. Also, having the head higher than the stomach allows gravity to keep stomach contents where they belong.
  • Sleep on your left side. Studies have shown that this position aids digestion and helps with the removal of stomach acid. Sleeping on the right side has been shown to worsen heartburn.
  • Relax! Stress may lead to an increase in stomach acid production. It is also known to lead to behaviors that can trigger heartburn, such as overeating.
  • Make sure to wait at least two hours after a meal before breaking a sweat. Regular exercise can help with digestion. Just remember exercising on a too-full stomach can trigger heartburn.

When to Talk to Your Doctor

If you continue to have heartburn symptoms after trying all of these suggestions, talk to your doctor about taking an antacid (such as Tums, Maalox, Mylanta, Rolaids, or Gaviscon) or another medication that might be useful and safe in pregnancy. Antacids will work very quickly on heartburn you may be experiencing before you go to bed, but if you are taking an antacid more than once or twice a week, you should see your doctor about another treatment plan.

It's especially important to discuss new medications with your doctor when pregnant in order to ensure the health of both you and your baby.

More Resources Related to Pregnancy Heartburn

For more information, you can check out these related articles:

Diet Changes to Prevent Pregnancy Heartburn

Lifestyle Modifications to Prevent Pregnancy Heartburn

Sources:

"Healthy Pregnancy" U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. 13 Nov 2013

"Heartburn, Hiatal Hernia, and Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)." NIH Publication No. 03­0882 June 2003. NIH Publication No. 03­0882. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). 13 Nov 2013​

"Nighttime Heartburn" The American Gastroenterological Association. Paraesophageal Hiatal Hernia 13 Nov 2013.

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