Pregnancy and Heartburn

Pregnancy and Heartburn

Why do pregnant women tend to suffer from acid reflux and heartburn?

Because of the increase in progesterone, which is the hormone responsible for relaxing the smooth muscles throughout the body, the sphincter at the base of the esophagus may not close as tightly as before pregnancy. Additionally, a woman’s body experiences increased pressure from the growing uterus; this can lead to acid escaping from the stomach and moving up the esophagus, causing acid reflux and the sensation of heartburn.

What to do if you have heartburn?

In terms of yoga asanas, chest opening poses are encouraged. These postures help create a lift of the front body which can counter the pressure on the compressed esophagus and make more room in the chest. Chest opening poses include modified camel (Ustrasana), supported fish pose (Matsyasana), and Warrior 1 (Virabhadrasana I). Also, raising the arms up over the head can alleviate esophageal pressure, and keeping the torso at 45-degree inclined angle when reclining can be helpful. Reclined goddess pose (Supta baddha konasana) or reclined hero pose (Supta virasana) with props can be nice restorative options.

Ustrasana Pose

Fish Pose

Virabhadrasana I

Supta virasana

 

What to avoid!

Again, in terms of asana, any pose where the head goes below the heart should be avoided if you are suffering from heartburn. Examples include inversions, downward facing dog (Adho mukha svanasana), and intense forward bend pose (Uttanasana). These poses will just invite the acid to seep upwards in the esophagus. In class, we encourage the students to do downward dog at the wall with the chest parallel to the floor, arms extended towards the wall. This pose accomplishes stretching the back muscles out, which feels so good during pregnancy, without aggravating the esophagus.

Adho mukha svanasana

Uttanasana

Besides yoga poses, what is helpful?

Besides yoga asanas, there are many alternative remedies that may help alleviate the discomfort of heartburn. Raw almonds, papaya enzymes, slippery elm bark, and apple cider vinegar are known to be helpful as digestive aids. Drinking one tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with water in the morning before eating is a great home remedy. There are two theories to why this works. First, the stomach is fooled into thinking it has enough acid to digest food and will produce less acid. Second, the apple cider helps balance the pH level in the stomach.

In Holistic Midwifery, Anne Frye explains the hazards of relying on over-the-counter antacids: “Commercial antacids such as Tums and Mylanta should be taken only as a last resort and be used in strict moderation. Excessive use of antacids which contain magnesium can lead to lethargy, circulatory collapse, respiratory paralysis and coma if taken to excess. Poorly assimilated calcium from these products deposits in the placenta and leads to placental calcification later in pregnancy” (965).

I hope these yoga poses and natural remedies bring some relief for those suffering heartburn and acid reflux during pregnancy! If anyone in the community has found another remedy that works for them, please share!

Happy birthing!

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