One of the classic symptoms of early pregnancy is nausea or morning sickness. In fact, it’s so common that an estimated 80 percent of pregnant women will experience it in some form. However, the term morning sickness is not really a good name because it is rarely restricted to just the early hours of the day. Pregnancy related nausea would be a much better name, which is why some experts refer to it as this.
Despite the high incidence of morning sickness, some pregnant women will never experience a moment of it. They sail through their pregnancy without ever knowing just how all encompassing that feeling of nausea can be. If this sounds like you, consider yourself one of the small, but lucky minority. An absence of morning sickness can be completely normal and is not a sign that you are somehow “less pregnant” than women who do have it.
Will it harm the baby?
Many women worry that their nausea and vomiting will adversely affect their baby. There is so much emphasis placed on proper nutrition and its importance during pregnancy that they wonder if their baby will be getting all the nutrients it needs to develop and grow. Try not to worry. Nature is set up to succeed and your baby will be getting what it needs, when it needs it. Just to be on the safe side though, make sure you are taking your pre-natal vitamins as recommended by your midwife or doctor. Only in the most extreme cases of vomiting and food intolerances, is there a potential risk to the baby. Then, it will sometimes become necessary for a pregnant mother to be hospitalised.
Why does morning sickness occur?
- Despite lots of research, the true reason for why pregnancy nausea occurs is still not clearly understood.
- There is a link between not eating frequently enough and low blood sugar causing morning sickness.
- The vomiting centre in the brain in some pregnant women becomes more highly sensitive than in others. Particular foods, smells, textures and even the thought of some foods is enough to set off the sequence of feeling sick and then vomiting.
- High levels of pregnancy hormones, specifically oestrogen and HCG (Human Chorionic Gonadotrophin) cause morning sickness to occur. These are particularly high in the first trimester of pregnancy when they play a vital role in supporting the newly fertilised egg.
- Progesterone, another hormone which is high in pregnancy causes the muscles of the digestive tract to relax. This means the stomach contents can easily regurgitate out of the stomach and up the oesophagus (food pipe). High progesterone also causes a general slowing down of stomach emptying, with food remaining in the stomach for longer periods of time.
- There appears to be a genetic influence as well. Women whose mothers who experienced morning sickness tend to be more at risk of having it as well.
Benefits of morning sickness (Yes there are some)!
- From a biological point of view, morning sickness can be protective to the foetus. Being able to tolerate only bland, simple foods means that mothers may then reduce the risk of being exposed to food-borne diseases.
- Women who experience morning sickness are at less risk of miscarrying. Their pregnancy hormones may be so high that it is thought they play a protective role in maintaining their early pregnancy.
Morning sickness is more common in:
- First pregnancies. Women who’ve been pregnant before seem to experience less morning sickness than Primigravidas (First time mothers).
- Multiple pregnancies such as twins, triplets or more.
- The first trimester or first 14 weeks of pregnancy.
- Women who are prone to motion sickness or who easily become seasick.
- Women who are fatigued and exhausted during their pregnancy. Pushing yourself too hard will not help your feelings of nausea, so rest when you can. Have an afternoon lie down when possible and give yourself a break.
- Periods of stress during pregnancy. Work related events, family dramas, house moves or any number of incidents which raise stress hormones can make morning sickness more pronounced.
- Time and patience. As your pregnancy develops, it is likely your morning sickness will settle. In most women, it eases by around 14 weeks of gestation.
- Don’t force yourself to eat particular foods just because you feel you should. Chances are they will just cause you to feel worse. As long as what you are eating is safe (See Pregnancy Diet), eat what you feel like, when you feel like it.
- Avoid strongly flavoured or scented foods if you’re feeling nauseous. Coffee, alcohol, fried or fatty foods, even the sight and smell of red meat cooking can all be triggers for a fresh wave of nausea. Try to stick with bland, easy to digest foods which don’t require much preparation.
- Foods served cold or cool foods like salads, yoghurt, fruit and even cold soups may be more palatable to you. Hot foods tend to emit more odours which will only heighten your sense of smell.
- Try eating small amounts frequently. Experiment with different types and textures of foods. Some will give you relief and others will make you regret you even tried. High carbohydrate foods like bread, rice, pasta and potatoes are usually well tolerated. Dry crackers with a salty spread are usually fine, so are basic cereals drenched in low fat milk.
- Avoid gorging on too much food, especially if you feel as if you are starving. It will take around 20 minutes for your brain to register that your stomach is full, so stop eating when you feel as if you are almost satisfied. Eating every couple of hours, rather than limiting yourself to 3 large meals a day may be helpful.
- Keep a glass of water and some dry biscuits beside your bed. Before you even put your feet on the floor in the mornings, have some sips of water and munch on a couple of crackers. If your stomach is completely empty, there will be more opportunity for your pregnancy hormones to directly irritate your stomach lining.
- Some women find that using acupressure bands on their wrists work very effectively. These can also be useful for motion sickness which affects the same area of the brain as morning sickness. Check with your pharmacist about how and where to apply them for maximum effectiveness.
- Ginger has been proven to be helpful in easing morning sickness. Try drinking some ginger beer or ginger ale, eating ginger sweets, ginger biscuits or eating plain crystallised ginger. Cutting up a piece of raw ginger and inhaling its scent can be soothing as well.
- Experiment with some fresh lemons too. Lemonade, freshly squeezed juice, or mixed through soda water with crushed ice can help to combat queasiness.
- Keep some barley sugar sweets close by. Eating a couple will give an immediate boost to your blood sugar and may help ward off feelings of nausea. Some women find fruit flavoured chewable jubes equally as good. Just remember to hide them from your toddler though.
- Try brushing your teeth and tongue if you’re feeling sick. Some women develop a hypersensitive gag reflex and have problems even brushing their back molars. Experiment with mouthwashes, especially if you are bothered by a metallic, sharp taste in your mouth. Sipping iced water and munching on ice chips can have the same refreshing effect.
- Avoid strongly scented perfumes, deodorants, air fresheners and detergents. Any strong odours can trigger a fresh wave of nausea and bout of vomiting. Open windows when you can and avoid sitting in stale, stuffy confines. Go for a walk where possible and fill your lungs full of fresh air.
When do I need to be concerned?
- If you get to the point of vomiting so severely that you cannot keep any food or fluids down, you will need to see your doctor. Some women get to the stage of dehydration which leads to a deficiency in their electrolyte and mineral levels. Their blood pressure can also drop as a result of less circulating blood volume. If this occurs, they need hospitalisation and intravenous fluids.
- Around 1 to 3 percent of women will develop a condition known as Hyperemesis Gravidarum. Occasionally, it becomes necessary for an obstetrician to prescribe anti-nausea medication. This is avoided if possible, especially in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy when the foetus is still forming. The medications which are currently prescribed though, have been rigorously tested in regard to any potentially dangerous side effects to both the mother and her baby.