Feeling the burn

Nutrition consultant and registered dietitian Angela Phillips talks heartburn in pregnancy. 

As if sleeping and being comfortable while you’re pregnancy isn’t hard enough at times, the dreaded heartburn can certainly be trying. Heartburn is common during pregnancy due to a few factors. One is the hormones we produce to help our body stretch and allow room for our ever-growing bundle also cause the end of our oesophagus to relax. The relaxing of this valve allows the acid from our stomach to move back the wrong way, causing a burning sensation which cannot be avoided. However, before you hit the drugs to keep this at bay, there are a few simple things you can try first to reduce your symptoms.

What can I do about it?

As for most women, heartburn is more to do with anatomy rather than particular foods. With the physical cause outlined above, combined with a baby taking up room your stomach previously enjoyed, first and foremost you need to be careful with portions. Smaller portions will mean less pressure on your valve, so there’s less chance of reflux occurring.

Smaller portions can be easier said than done, so try the following:

  • Eat slowly and give your body time to register when it’s full (this can take 20 minutes).
  • Chew your food well. This will also help digestion, and allows you to feel satisfied sooner leading to smaller portions.
  • Keep fluids for between meals.Yes, it’s important to drink enough, but lots of fluid at mealtime will fill your stomach more.
  • Try using a smaller plate. People will consume up to a third less just by a change in plate size.
  • Avoid feeling over-hungry. It’s very hard to eat slowly and choose the right portions when you are famished.
  • Put leftovers away before sitting down to eat, and especially avoid having spare food sitting on the table in front of you. Having hot, ready to eat food sitting around can be very tempting, and cause you to reach for more, even when your stomach is telling you it’s satisfied.
  • Make sure you sit upright for two hours after eating– a challenge sometimes when you’re desperately tired!The trick with smaller portions is still eating all the nutrients you need. This can be done by choosing foods packed full of goodness, and eating these foods on your plate first, in case you get full before you finish. If your body weight was low pre-pregnancy and/or you are not gaining adequate weight during pregnancy, you’ll need to balance smaller portions out with some extra meals or snacks. Make snacks count by having protein and vegetables in a sandwich, or a smoothie filled with goodies such as nuts/seeds, avocado, spinach, and yoghurt.

Tip: if you are needing to use medication to relieve heartburn, be aware these can impact iron absoption. Take these separate to iron-rich foods or iron cupplements so you can absorb as much iron as possible.

Avoid acidic foods

While there is already acid in our stomachs, regardless of what we eat, keeping the acidity of the foods you consume low can help reduce your symptoms. Examples of acidic foods are:

  • Lemons
  • Grapefruit
  • Tomatoes
  • Oranges
  • Fruit juices
  • Tomato-based meals, e.g. pasta sauce.

Avoid caffeine 

This includes caffeine containing tea, energy drinks and some soft drinks as well as the obvious culprit: Coffee. Caffeine can also irritate bowels, another common pregnancy complaint and can have a negative impact on the baby if too much is consumed. So good reasons to skip it.

Try dairy 

The cooling effect of milk and yoghurt can be very helpful for heartburn. Try having a glass of milk or a yoghurt, especially before bedtime, to see if this helps. Just keep volumes small and if it irritates, move it further away from bedtime to allow your stomach to empty more.High fat foods can take longer to leave your stomach, meaning it is fuller for longer. Make sure you use the portion control tips to keep things enjoyable, especially if your meal is high in fat. For general health and wellbeing for you and your baby, choose healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts/seeds, avocado, and fatty fish.

Other foods to avoid

Other foods that relax the valve between your stomach and oesophagus are:

  • Chocolate (sniff sniff). Seems innocent enough, but due to methylxanthines, unfortunately, it’s not, and not only does it relax the valve, it also contains caffeine.
  • Peppermint. This may seem as though it would be cooling, but hold off reaching for the mints and chewing gum. Try cinnamon instead if you feel you need to freshen up.
  • Carbonated beverages. Choose plain water instead.
  • Alcohol.Obviously on the no-no list, but good to know if you suffer from heartburn when you’re not pregnant.

Dress comfortably

Don’t hold off getting comfortable maternity clothes, as they’re worth it! They help ensure you have room to relax your stomach and stop clothes pressing on your stomach.

Share this page


BUMP & baby is New Zealand’s only magazine for pregnancy and early babyhood. Our team of mums and mums-to-be understand what it’s like to be pregnant in this connected age, and that’s why BUMP & Baby online is geared toward what pregnant women and new mums really want to know.

Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top