Labor Signs

Pregnant woman holding her belly just before her labor starts.
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Does Heartburn Mean Labor Is *Finally* Starting?

The closer you get to your baby's big debut, the more likely you are to experience these discomforts.

by Lindsay E. Mack
Originally Published: 

When your due date is drawing near, every little change in your body may feel like the baby’s about to make their big debut. So is heartburn a sign of labor? Pregnant people frequently experience this uncomfortable burning feeling.

“Heartburn is incredibly common in pregnancy and can worsen as the uterus grows and pushes up on the stomach,” Dr. Jenn Conti M.D., an OB-GYN and Modern Fertility medical advisor, tells Romper in an email. “It's not necessarily a sign of labor, but rather of pregnancy in general and the effect of progesterone on the GI tract.” Although heartburn can be more frequent later in pregnancy, even around the time of delivery, it isn’t necessarily a cause-and-effect type of relationship. For the most part, “heartburn is more common in the third trimester, because the growing uterus puts more pressure on the stomach. Therefore, not all heartburns are a sign of labor, and not all early labor phases are associated with increased heartburn,” Dr. Zaher Merhi, OBGYN, MD, and the founder of Rejuvenating Fertility Center, tells Romper.

Why is heartburn so common in pregnancy?

“Approximately half of pregnant women experience heartburn at some point during their pregnancy,” says Dr. Merhi. “Heartburn occurs because pregnancy hormones cause the lower esophageal sphincter muscle to relax which allows stomach acids to go up and enter the esophagus. Also, the growing uterus pushes on the stomach causing the acid to go upwards instead of staying in the stomach.” Between the looser muscles and the growing baby, heartburn is kind of inevitable.

How can you relieve pregnancy heartburn or make it stop?

Want to make that burning sensation go away for a bit? It’s totally understandable. To help ease pregnancy heartburn, try eating smaller meals and avoid lying down right after eating. Not all antacid medications have been studied on pregnant people very thoroughly, according to a 2020 study in Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, so ask your doctor about which meds are safe for you to take. The good thing is that most cases of pregnancy-induced heartburn will become less severe once the baby is born, according to the same article. It’s just another reason to look forward to that due date.

Subtle and obvious signs of labor

If dealing with more heartburn doesn't necessarily mean labor is on the way, then what are some of the less-known signs of labor? “Some of the more subtle signs of labor include looser stool than usual, stomach upset, and abdominal tightening that isn't necessarily painful but increasing in frequency,” says Dr. Conti. In some cases, you might have a sense that something different is going on in your body. “Probable signs that labor is imminent (next few days) would be losing the mucus plug, bloody show, water breaking or the start of some cramping/back pain,” Hilary Baxendale, Lamaze certified instructor, birth doula, and founder of Westchester Birth and Parenting, tells Romper. “But many people just feel like something is ‘off’ or different, kind of intuitive knowing that something has shifted or is about to happen.” This kind of feeling is difficult to measure, sure, but worth paying attention to in the later days of pregnancy.

So although heartburn is not a definite sign that labor is starting, there are plenty of other ways to tell when your body is revving up for that big event.

Experts sourced:

Dr. Jenn Conti M.D., an OB-GYN and Modern Fertility medical advisor

Hilary Baxendale, Lamaze Certified Instructor, Birth Doula, and founder of Westchester Birth and Parenting

Dr. Zaher Merhi, OB-GYN, MD, and the founder of Rejuvenating Fertility Center

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