Coping with morning sickness

It's one of the most common pregnancy complaints and can vary greatly in degree and duration of suffering. Here's what you need to know...

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Morning sickness and how to cope Morning sickness is the common term for nausea and vomiting in pregnancy, affecting around 70% of pregnant women to varying degrees. Commonly experienced in the early stages of pregnancy, morning sickness can last anything from a few weeks, to months or, for the unfortunate few, for most of the pregnancy. For most sufferers, however, morning sickness kicks in by week 6, worsens over the next month and tails off in the first few weeks of the second trimester, often clearing up completely by week 16. Symptoms range from intermittent mild nausea through to regular vomiting and while for some women nausea may only occur at certain times of the day, for others it may be more severe at certain times of the day and for many it’s an all-day occurrence.

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In most cases morning sickness is an unpleasant effect of pregnancy but of no cause for concern for mother and baby. However in it’s most severe, and relatively rare, form, where women vomit excessively and experience dehydration and significant weight loss, pregnancy sickness becomes a different condition altogether, hyperemesis, and may require hospital treatment.

What causes morning sickness?

The precise causes of morning sickness aren’t understood, although most doctors associate it with the hormonal and physical changes of pregnancy, particularly the production of HCG. What is clear is that many pregnant women become more sensitive to smells, motion and/or certain foods during pregnancy and also become nauseated when their blood sugar levels drop.

Some women may be predisposed towards morning sickness, for example, you’re more like to suffer from morning sickness if members of your immediate family suffered with it, if you have a history of nausea and motion sickness and if you have a history of migraines.

Triggers of morning sickness vary from person to person, some women might find that particular smells, or even just the general smell of cooking food, makes them nauseous, others may find that they can’t stomach particular foods, or can only manage to eat very bland foods. Some women might no longer be able to stand the smell of their dog, or find that minty toothpaste makes them gag and others may have a sudden intolerance for water. Each person will have their own list of things to avoid.

What you can do to relieve morning sickness

  • Avoid triggers – The most obvious step to relieve morning sickness is to try and avoid the triggers that you are aware of. This might mean that you need to hand over some jobs to other people, like cooking hot meals or washing the dog.
  • Get a balanced diet – You might not feel like eating, but it’s important that you do to keep your energy levels up and help control nausea. A well-balanced diet is best to help stave off nausea, but if you’re limited in what you can keep down then it’s better that you just eat what you can, and what you crave, for a limited time than to worry too much about balanced nutrition.
  • Keep your blood sugar up – By now it probably won’t be a surprise to you that making a baby is a very tiring business. You may find that you become hungry far more quickly than usual, and that when your blood sugar levels drop, you become nauseous. The best way to avoid this is by eating smaller meals, more often, so that your stomach is never empty, and by eating slow-burning foods, like complex carbohydrates. Try to avoid falling into the habit of addressing low blood sugar with sugary snacks, they might offer quick relief, but can lead to excessive weight gain. That said, if you can hardly keep anything down then eat whatever you can manage.
  • Avoid too much liquid near meal times – Excess liquid can hamper digestion, so try limiting your intake of fluids in the hour around eating. You can make up your fluid intake between meals.
  • Eat before you get up – If you suffer particularly in the morning then it might help to keep oat biscuits, rice cakes or crackers by your bed and eat a couple about a quarter of an hour before getting up.
  • Night-time nausea – If you wake up in the night feeling nauseous it will probably help to eat something. Again oat biscuits, rice cakes or crackers might be a good idea, or you might find that a small bowl of cereal does the trick.
  • Rest – Getting plenty of rest is important to avoid fatigue. When you’re very tired your posture suffers and your muscles can become more tense, which can lead to nausea. Listen to your body and don’t overexert yourself.
  • Keep hydrated – Even if you can’t keep solids down well, try to make sure you drink enough to avoid danger of dehydration.
  • Ginger – Many women find that ginger can ease nausea. This might work best for you in the form of sipping ginger ale or ginger tea, or snacking on ginger biscuits.
  • Lemon – Lemon is another food that often works to counteract nausea. You might want to try cutting a lemon in half and placing half in a paper bag and then inhaling the scent, or squeezing fresh lemon juice into warm water to sip. Many women also find that sipping on lemonade can reduce nausea, and that sipping boiled lemonade after vomiting can help them get back on their feet.
  • Peppermint – While peppermint may make some pregnant women feel nauseous, others might find that sucking on a mint, or sipping peppermint tea helps reduce nausea.
  • Acupressure bands / Acupuncture – Many chemists sell acupressure bands for the relief of motion sickness and some women may find these helpful in relieving morning sickness. They’re an inexpensive option and probably worth a try if you can’t manage the nausea through diet. You might also consider acupuncture as a possible remedy.
  • Foot massage – Muscle tension can contribute to nausea, and relaxing muscles can also help to relieve it. Some women will find that a foot massage can help relieve tension and alleviate nausea. It’s also a good way of involving your partner if he’s feeling that there’s little he can do to help.

When all else fails

If nausea and vomiting are having a disruptive effect on your life and nothing seems to offer any relief, then you can speak to your doctor about medicines. Officially no morning sickness medicine is proven as safe for use during pregnancy, though several are considered safe by doctors, particularly when the alternative is a poorly nourished mother.

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If you can’t keep anything down at all and are vomiting frequently for more than 24 hours then you should call your doctor straight away. If you are losing weight and becoming dehydrated due to excessive vomiting then you may be suffering from hyperemesis gravida and should seek medical attention as soon as possible. Your doctor will be able to prescribe anti-vomiting medicine, and you may also need to be hospitalised and nourished through a drip.

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