Do Heartburn Meds During Pregnancy Cause Asthma in Children?

B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional

Heartburn is a common complaint in pregnant women. An estimated 40 to 80 percent of pregnant women will experience this painful condition, most frequently in the third trimester. Hormones like progesterone and the growth of the baby place pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter allowing for the reflux of acidic stomach contents. While there are several medications approved for treating heartburn in pregnancy. recent headlines have given pregnant women pause — and for good reason.

A recent meta-analysis of eight studies involving more than 1.3 million children found that children born to mothers who took acid reflux medicines were one third times more likely to develop asthma. The study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, stressed that although the study found an association between the use of acid reflux medications during pregnancy and the child’s risk of developing asthma, it did not prove that the medications were the cause. Further research is obviously needed.

So, where does that leave a pregnant mom who is dealing with painful heartburn? Check out these tips to deal with heartburn as safely as possible.

  • Always talk to your doctor before taking any medication.  Many acid reflux medications, including PPIs and H2 blockers, can be found over the counter but that does not mean they can be taken at will. Check with your doctor in order to get the right medication, dosage and proper length of use. They may suggest trying antacids before one of the other medications.
  • Elevating the head of the bed slightly can often help alleviate nighttime acid reflux symptoms.  With your physician’s approval and the tips in my article Acid Reflux: Elevating the Head of the Bed Can Help, you can find the correct way to elevate for reflux control.

  • Eliminate the dietary triggers for acid reflux like spicy foods, high fat meals, chocolate, caffeine, citrus, and tomato or tomato-based products.

  • Eat six small meals per day instead of three large ones. This allows you to get adequate nutrition without overfilling the stomach. Chew thoroughly and eat slowly to aid in better digestion.

  • Do not eat within three hours of bedtime. Your stomach takes about three hours to digest a meal so plan to eat three hours prior to when you head to bed.

  • Wear loose fitting clothing to avoid further pressure on the digestive tract.

  • Ask your physician about whether using ginger, probiotics or other natural remedies could aid in reducing your heartburn.

The good news is that most pregnancy-induced heartburn resolves itself once baby is born.  However, if you should have symptoms that continue after treatment or after the baby is born, talk with your physician. It's possible your doctor will recommend that a specialist conduct further examinations.

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Jennifer has a bachelor's degree in dietetics as well as graduate work in public health and nutrition.  She has worked with families dealing with digestive disease, asthma and food allergies for the past 12 years.  Jennifer also serves the Board of Directors for Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association (PAGER).