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10 Foods That Cause Heartburn During Pregnancy

Carrying an embryo inside and nurturing it until it turns to a fully developed baby is indeed an arduous task. Along with emotional and hormonal changes within, there are many physical changes that a pregnant woman goes through as well.

While the external changes are most noticeable to others around you include a protruding belly, swollen ankles or glowing face, internal changes include an excessive urge to pee, tender breasts, and heartburn.

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This article will tell you about the foods that cause heartburn during pregnancy.

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Heartburn During Pregnancy

Heartburn, a common problem associated with pregnancy, is caused by the relaxing of the muscles on top of the stomach. This relaxation occurs as the body copes with the need to accommodate the growing baby in the womb, resulting in the muscles not being as efficient in preventing the digestive juices from making their way, from the stomach, all the way back to the oesophagus [1].

Moreover, as the release of the hormones progesterone and oestrogen affects the valve working as a barrier between the stomach and the oesophagus, there is an increased production of the gastric juices, leading to an unpleasant burning sensation, typically behind the breastbone or sternum, often carrying up to the throat as well [2]. The commonly known heartburn is also referred to scientifically as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) [3].

While heartburn is most experienced during the second half of the pregnancy, certain pregnant women might face the issue throughout. Studies have revealed that the symptoms of heartburn significantly increased around the end of the second trimester [4].

The heartburn during pregnancy can be caused by hormonal changes and the growing baby pressing against your stomach. However, in some cases, it can be caused by certain food items. So, pregnant women should make it a point to avoid these foods.

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1. Cheese

While you might really love your daily slice of cheese, it is advisable to stay clear of cheese when you are pregnant. The high-fat content in cheese causes acidity and heartburn when consumed by a pregnant woman [5]. Food items containing high-fat content slow down the digestion process, leading to an increase in pressure exerted on to the stomach, which in turn pushes the acids back into the oesophagus, causing heartburn.

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2. Avocado

While avocados are extremely healthy, they are not suitable for a pregnant woman [6]. The high-fat content in avocados could bring about acid reflux and heartburn. Studies have revealed that heartburn, especially in the third trimester, is brought about by the consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids.

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3. Chocolate

Known as a reflexogenic or substance, causing acid reflux, chocolate consumption is not recommended for pregnant women for a variety of reasons. In addition to containing caffeine, chocolate also has theobromine, a kind of methylxanthine that leads to heartburn and acid reflux [7][8].

Similar to other reflexogenic, chocolate causes reflux by a combination of various factors - increasing the secretion of gastric juices, stimulation of sensory receptors to be found in the oesophagus, reducing the tension of the lower oesophageal sphincter as well as by delaying the voiding of waste from the stomach [9].

If you do have an uncontrollable craving for chocolate, consume the same in small quantities or opt for dark chocolate.

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4. Caffeine

Beverages containing caffeine such as tea, coffee, soft drinks, or sodas have been known to cause heartburn in pregnant women [10]. Coffee, decaf or regular, must never be consumed on an empty stomach when you are pregnant. Similarly, it is best to avoid sodas throughout your pregnancy completely.

If you are unable to skip on coffee, either limit your daily intake to not more than 1-2 cups a day or opt for the decaf version. Fresh juices are a much better alternative to caffeinated and carbonated beverages.

Note: Despite the stigma attached to caffeine consumption in pregnancy, caffeine does not, as it is universally believed, lead to an increased risk of adverse fertility, pregnancy, or other neurodevelopmental outcomes [11].

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5. Processed Baked Food

Loaded with artificial colouring as well as preservatives, the processed baked food products are unhealthy not just for pregnant women, but for everyone [12]. Refined white sugar and all-purpose flour or maida have been known to cause heartburn in pregnant women [13].

If you crave for baked products, bake some at home or order in freshly baked goods.

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6. Spicy Food

Consumption of spicy foods is a prominent cause for heartburn in pregnant women because they often contain a compound called capsaicin, which may slow the rate of digestion. That is, the longer the food sits in the stomach longer (food does not digest as well or move as quickly during pregnancy), the higher the risk for heartburn [14].

Pepper, capsicum and chilly are not recommended to be eaten raw by an expectant mother.

If the craving for spicy food strikes, ensure that you consume the same in smaller portions and keep the spices mild.

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7. Peppermint

Peppermint, when consumed, leads to relaxation of the sphincter muscle present between the stomach and the oesophagus. As during pregnancy, these muscles are already quite lax, the stomach juices or acids flow back into the oesophagus quite easily, causing heartburn [15].

Pregnant women should avoid consuming peppermint as well as peppermint-flavoured foods.

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8. Garlic

Fructans, a main component of garlic, are not completely digested by the human body, and during pregnancy, this can cause heartburn in women [16]. The safest way would be to avoid garlic throughout pregnancy fully.

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9. Beef

Being high in fat, beef causes heartburn in pregnant woman and is best avoided throughout pregnancy. Some studies point out that there is a possibility of certain health risks, that is, the routine treatments administered to the cattle, such as immunizations and injections, might prove to be a health hazard to the foetus [17].

If you must have beef, go for leaner cuts. With comparatively less amount of fat, a lean cut will lead to lesser heartburn.

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10. Alcohol

It goes without saying that alcohol is universally considered to be detrimental to the growing foetus. In addition to being detrimental for the growth of the foetus in the womb, alcohol is also known to cause heartburn and acidity in the pregnant mother [18].

Alcohol is a proven agent causing malformation of an embryo, and that there are a host of other problems or Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) associated with an expectant mother drinking alcoholic drinks, which include premature birth, low birth weight, spontaneous abortion, developmental delay, cognitive deficits and small for gestational age [19].

Note: As there are no clear guidelines as to what amount of alcohol can be considered safe for consumption while pregnant, alcohol is best avoided altogether throughout the pregnancy.

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While these foods have been known to cause heartburn during pregnancy, here is a list of foods that are safe for an expectant mother to eat [20].

  • Legumes such as lentils, peas, beans, chickpeas, soybeans, and peanuts.
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Salmon
  • Boiled egg
  • Broccoli and dark, leafy green vegetables
  • Berries
  • Whole grains
  • Dried fruits
  • Fish liver oil
  • Smoothies
  • Yoghurt
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On A Final Note…

As acid reflux or heartburn can be quite uncomfortable for an expectant mother, at times even having an adverse effect on the pregnancy as well. If the heartburn is too much for the expectant mother to bear, consult your doctor immediately.

Read more about: heartburn causes remedies
Story first published: Wednesday, October 21, 2020, 18:30 [IST]