Your body undergoes incredible changes during pregnancy, yet one of the most unpleasant ones can be morning sickness. Whoever coined it “morning” sickness clearly never had it before. Every pregnant person who has had morning sickness knows that it can feel more like morning, noon and night sickness.
“Morning sickness is common,” said Michael Bradfield, MD, a family medicine specialist and obstetrician with Banner North Colorado Family Medicine in Greeley, CO. “As many as 90% of pregnant people will feel nauseated early in pregnancy but most don’t vomit.”
This constant feeling of nausea is often different from food poisoning, which can include many other symptoms like diarrhea, fever, abdominal pain, bloating, headache along with nausea and vomiting.
Thankfully, nausea during pregnancy doesn’t typically last forever and there is a prize at the end of it: a beautiful baby. Dr. Bradfield explained what causes morning sickness and how to ease morning sickness.
What causes morning sickness?
For many, nausea and vomiting may occur during the early months of pregnancy, “typically, morning sickness is present from 8 to 16 weeks of pregnancy,” Dr. Bradfield said. “Most, but not all, women are symptom-free after 16 to 20 weeks.”
It’s not clear exactly what causes morning sickness, but experts believe it may be caused by low blood sugar and surging pregnancy hormones. Other things that may make it worse include stress, being overly tired, certain foods and travel (if you’re prone to motion sickness).
Mild morning sickness won’t harm you or your baby, but severe nausea and/or persistent vomiting known as hyperemesis gravidarum can cause serious problems. This can cause you to lose weight and become dehydrated.
“If you’re experiencing persistent vomiting, you should see your health care provider or go to the emergency room. They can assess if you need fluids and electrolyte replacement and help manage your nausea and vomiting with medications,” Dr. Bradfield said.
Five ways you can prevent or relieve morning sickness
If you’re experiencing unpleasant symptoms, there are many things you can try at home to treat your nausea and vomiting. Here are five tips.
1. Eat smaller, more frequent meals
Although eating may be the furthest from your mind when you’re feeling nauseated, an empty stomach can actually make your nausea worse.
“Every few hours, focus on eating small meals and snacks instead of three larger meals,” Dr. Bradfield said. “Eat foods that are bland, low in fat and easy to digest. Fatty, greasy and spicy foods may upset your stomach, so pay attention to which foods seem to set off your nausea.”
It’s also important to increase your protein intake. Things like eggs, cheese, nuts and yogurt are great options.
Avoid lying down after eating as this can slow digestion and add to your queasiness.
[Also read “15 Foods to Eat, Avoid or Have in Moderation During Pregnancy.”]
2. Stay hydrated
Hydration is so important during pregnancy. While it may seem counterintuitive to drink a lot of water when you’re feeling nauseated, it not only benefits you but also the baby – helping to form the placenta and the amniotic sac.
“Drink cold, clear beverages such as ginger ale or sparkling flavored water,” Dr. Bradfield said. “Or try adding in a slice of ginger to hot water or decaf tea.”
Research has shown that ginger is an effective and safe treatment for nausea and vomiting.
3. Avoid unpleasant smells
Whether it’s the sight of raw chicken or the less-than-pleasant whiff of someone’s perfume, certain smells can turn your tummy and cue your gag reflex. When you can’t open a window or walk away, try sniffing pleasant scents like lemon, peppermint, ginger or orange.
4. Take vitamin B6 and doxylamine succinate
If you’re trying to avoid prescription medication, Dr. Bradfield said a combination therapy of B6 (pyridoxine) and doxylamine succinate, an antihistamine like Unisom, or diphenhydramine, another antihistamine, may be good alternatives.
“Studies suggest that taking vitamin B6 and doxylamine for morning sickness greatly improves nausea,” Dr. Bradfield said. “They are low-risk, very affordable and don’t require a prescription but speak with your provider first before taking anything.”
[Also read “5 Things to Know About Vitamins Before, During and After Pregnancy.”]
5. Get plenty of rest
“Your body has a lot of increased metabolic demands, so sleep, meditation and relaxation are vital while pregnant,” Dr. Bradfield says. “Nausea tends to increase with fatigue and stress.”
Try lying down, closing your eyes and taking deep breaths. Take a warm bath before bedtime to help settle your body and mind. If you’re having trouble sleeping, there are also some approved over-the-counter sleep medications, but check with your provider before taking anything.
[Also read “How to Beat This Sleep Problem That Strikes Pregnant Women.”]
Is there medical treatment for morning sickness?
If at-home treatments and over-the-counter medications don’t do the trick, a combination of stronger prescription medications for morning sickness may bring relief. Your provider may prescribe an antiemetic drug and/or acid reflux blocker. Not all are safe to use during pregnancy, so talk to your provider to make sure the medicine is a good choice for you.
When to see your health care provider
Morning sickness can really bring discomfort, but don’t ignore unusual symptoms. If you believe you are suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum or any of the symptoms below, seek immediate care from your health care provider:
- Inability to keep food/drink down for 24 hours
- Weight loss
- Vomiting blood (looks dark, bloody or like coffee grounds (a sign of blood in vomit)
- Abdominal pain or cramping
- Difficulty urinating due to dehydration
If you don't have a provider, connect with a Banner health care professional who can help.