One of the classic symptoms of early pregnancy is nausea or morning sickness.
It’s so common that about 8 out of every 10 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.
Despite the high incidence of morning sickness, some pregnant women will never experience a moment of it. 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.
With so much emphasis on proper nutrition and its importance during pregnancy, it’s normal to wonder if your baby will be getting all the required nutrients. Try not to worry. Nature is set up to succeed and your baby will be getting what it needs, when it needs it.
Only in the most extreme cases of vomiting and food intolerances, is there a potential risk to the baby. To be on the safe side, make sure you are taking your pre-natal vitamins as recommended by your midwife or doctor.
Why does it occur?
- There is a link between not eating frequently enough and low blood sugar causing morning sickness.
- The vomiting centre in the brain can become highly sensitive, making certain foods, smells, textures and even the thought of some foods result in 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).
- Women whose mothers experienced morning sickness tend to have it as well.
The benefits (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
- Multiple pregnancies such as twins, triplets or more
- The first trimester (first 14 weeks)
- Women who are prone to motion sickness or sea sickness
- Women who are fatigued and exhausted
- Periods of stress
What can help?
- Time and patience. 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. As long as what you are eating is safe (See Pregnancy Diet), eat what you feel like.
- Avoid strongly flavoured or scented foods if you’re feeling nauseous. 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.
- Try eating small amounts frequently. 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 with 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.
- 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. Check with your pharmacist about how and where to apply them for maximum effectiveness.
- Try drinking ginger beer/ale, eating ginger sweets, ginger biscuits or plain crystallised ginger. Cutting up a piece of raw ginger and inhaling its scent can be soothing as well.
- 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. 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. Dehydration can lead to an electrolyte and mineral deficiency. Blood pressure can also drop, requiring hospitalisation and intravenous fluids.
- Around 1 – 3 percent of women develop Hyperemesis Gravidarum. Occasionally, it becomes necessary for an obstetrician to prescribe anti-nausea medication. While this is avoided whenever possible, prescribed medications have been rigorously tested for any potentially dangerous side effects to both the mother and her baby.