What is it? What are the symptoms? What are the treatments?

What is heartburn?

Heartburn is a form of indigestion where stomach acid escapes back into the oesophagus (gullet), producing a burning sensation in the upper abdomen. In pregnancy it is caused by hormones that relax muscles and ligaments throughout the body, in this case the valve at the top of the stomach. The majority of mums-to-be experience heartburn on and off during pregnancy. It's usually most troublesome the last trimester of pregnancy because of the pressure of the growing uterus on the stomach.

Heartburn is often made worse by lying flat, so it can be particularly uncomfortable at night. It's usually brought on by eating, particularly spicy or fatty foods. Thankfully, it's harmless to unborn babies and usually resolves after the birth.

What are the symptoms of Heartburn?

An uncomfortable burning sensation In the upper abdomen, usually triggered by eating, especially spicy and fatty foods.

What are the treatments and remedies of Heartburn?

Self-help is the first course of action. Here are some things to try:

  • Try to avoid eating for the last three hours before you go to bed, and if you do need a snack, choose something fairly bland, such as a couple of crackers or dry biscuits.
  • Rather than sleeping flat, which lots of expectant mums find worsens heartburn, try propping yourself up with an extra pillow.
  • Eat little and often rather than the usual three main meals: five or six smaller meals will be more easily digested. Try and work out which foods might be triggering off your symptoms and avoid them.
  • Try drinking a glass of milk to ease symptoms.
  • Saliva helps neutralise stomach acid, so you might find chewing gum helps, as it stimulates the production of saliva.
  • If you can't get relief from self-help measures, talk to your pharmacist, who might prescribe an antacid – but don't just take over-the-counter preparations without medical advice.

This guide 

The information in this Bounty A-Z of Family Health is not a substitute for an examination, diagnosis or treatment by a doctor, midwife, health visitor or any other qualified health professional. If in doubt, always speak to a doctor.

Bounty will not be held responsible or liable for any injury, loss, damage, or illness, however this occurs or appears, after using the information given on this website and in particular the A-Z of Family Health.

Further help

For health advice and information 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, the NHS offers call and web services. You can also visit NHS websites for services, health information and health news at nhs.uk 

  • England – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs.uk 
  • Scotland – call 111 from any landline or mobile phone free of charge, or visit nhs24.com 
  • Wales – call 0845 4647 , or visit nhsdirect.wales.nhs.uk 
  • Northern Ireland – visit hscni.net