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What can I do for heartburn during pregnancy?

Q: I am a 24 years old woman and 7 weeks pregnant. I feel a problem in breathing sometimes at night. I experience heartburn too. What food should I take? Please advise.

A:Many women experience heartburn for the first time during pregnancy. Though its common and generally harmless, it can be quite uncomfortable. Heartburn (also called acid indigestion or acid reflux) is a burning sensation that often extends from the bottom of the breastbone to the lower throat. It is caused by some of the hormonal and physical changes in your body during pregnancy. The hormone progesterone relaxes the ring-like sphincter at the base of your oesophagus, which normally closes off entry to the stomach. When that doesn’t occur, food mixed with digestive enzymes can back up into your oesophagus. The result: irritation and a burning sensation in your chest. Breathlessness is common both early in pregnancy and in the third trimester. Early on, the hormone progesterone affects the brain and causes you to breathe more deeply. During the third trimester, difficulty breathing can result from the uterus compressing the diaphragm, which presses on your lungs. Though you may not be able to eliminate heartburn entirely, you can take steps to minimize your discomfort:

  • Avoid food and beverages that cause you gastrointestinal distress. The usual suspects are carbonated drinks; alcohol (which you should avoid anyway during pregnancy); caffeine; chocolate; acidic foods like citrus fruits and juices, tomatoes, mustard, and vinegar; processed meats; mint products; and spicy, highly seasoned, fried, or fatty foods.
  • Don't eat big meals. Instead, eat several small meals throughout the day. Take your time eating and chew thoroughly.
  • Avoid drinking large quantities of fluids during meals — you don’t want to distend your stomach. (Its important to drink eight to ten glasses of water daily during pregnancy, but sip it between meals.)
  • Try chewing gum after eating. Chewing gum stimulates your salivary glands, and saliva can help neutralize acid.
  • Don't eat close to bedtime. Give yourself two to three hours to digest before you lie down.
  • Sleep propped up with several pillows. Elevating your upper body will help keep your stomach acids where they belong and will aid your digestion.
  • Wear loose, comfortable clothing. Avoid any tightness around your waist and tummy.
  • Bend at the knees instead of at the waist.
  • Don't smoke — in addition to contributing to a host of serious health problems, smoking boosts stomach acidity.
  • An over-the-counter antacid that contains magnesium or calcium may ease discomfort, but check with your doctor before taking one.

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