It is often seen as the defining symptoms of early pregnancy and many women only discover that they may be pregnant when morning sickness starts. The term can be misleading. The nausea and vomiting during pregnancy that is known as morning sickness may not only occur in the morning. It can persist throughout the day and can affect diet and lifestyle in various ways.
Nearly 80% of pregnant women suffer from nausea and about 50% of them also suffer from vomiting in early pregnancy. After the first trimester (first 12 weeks of pregnancy), morning sickness usually subsides but it can persist till much later in pregnancy for some women. Nausea and vomiting starting in the third trimester of pregnancy (the last 12 weeks of pregnancy) is rare but is a possibility.
Read more on signs of pregnancy.
What is Morning Sickness?
Although called morning sickness, the nausea and vomiting of pregnancy can be severe and overwhelming at any time of the day. Most women experience it in the mornings and slowly recover as the day goes by. In others, it may continue throughout the day and is often aggravated by the smell of food as well as any strong, offensive or pungent odors. Even the sight of food can be a trigger and worsen the nausea and vomiting.
Why does morning sickness occur?
The exact mechanism behind morning sickness is not entirely understood but it is known to be due to a hormone change. The increase in pregnancy hormones such as human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) and estrogen in early pregnancy have been implicated in causing morning sickness. Multiple pregnancies, such as twins, may increase the severity of morning sickness due to excess of circulating hormones.
Low blood glucose levels or excess thyroid hormones (as in hyperthyroidism) may also play a part in morning sickness. Women who have a tendency to experience and nausea for other reasons, who are experiencing psychological stress or those who experienced problems in previous pregnancy tend to be more likely to experience morning sickness. This points towards a multifaceted cause of morning sickness.
Dangers of Morning Sickness for the Baby
In most cases, the nausea and vomiting of morning sickness does not pose any health risk to either the mother or child. It does cause significant discomfort to the mother and can affect eating habits, lifestyle and make the early stages of pregnancy very unpleasant. Usually these effects are limited and even without any medical intervention, the morning sickness subsides and the pregnancy continues without any complicatiosn provided there are no other problems.
However, there are cases when the nausea and vomiting are very severe. It can persist throughout the day and night and the mother is unable to drink or eat for long periods. This condition is known as hyperemesis gravidarum. It can lead to dehydration and even weight loss at a time where a pregnant women should be gaining some weight. As a result there is a risk of preterm labor and low birth weight of the baby.
These complications of hyperemesis gravidarum can be prevented. However, hyperemesis gravidarum needs to be diagnosed and treated promptyly. The problem is that some pregnant women believe that the severe nausea and vomiting of hyperemesis gravidarum is a normal part of pregnancy and do not seek medical attention until late. A miscarriage is possible in prolonged and severe cases where treatment is delayed.
Home Remedies for Morning Sickness
Medication to ease nausea and vomiting which are known as antiemetics are not the first choice of treatment for morning sickness. Instead conservative measures should be implemented to help control the nausea and vomiting until it passes. It is always advisable to speak to a doctor to first confirm that there is no risk of complications and follow the doctor’s guidelines exactly as directed.
The following dietary and lifestyle remedies may help with morning sickness.
- Take one or two plain crackers with no flavoring in the morning even before getting out of bed. Chew these crackers slowly and take small bites at a time.
- Switch to many small meals throughout the day instead of a few large meals. Do not wait for the hunger sensation to arise as this can intensify the nausea.
- Bland dry foods or snacks are often better tolerated. Dry toast, crackers or plain white rice should be tried as first foods once the nausea and vomiting subsides for the day.
- Spicy and foods that are not usually eaten should be avoided. Similarly greasy foods may also not be well tolerated. Some women find that cold foods are better tolerated than hot foods.
- As a general rule it is better to avoid those foods which trigger nausea, not only by eating or tasting it but even by the smell of these foods.
- Certain foods that are high in vitamin B6 appear to help minimize the nausea and vomiting in some pregnant women. Beans, nuts, peas and seeds are rich in vitamin B6.
- Drink enough liquids to avoid dehydration. Oral rehydrating solutions are ideal to replenish electrolytes along with water. Try to avoid drinking when eating if this is a problem. Rather drink fluids in-between meals.
- Adequate rest is important. The loss of fluid and electrolytes with vomiting, in addition to the changes that are occurring in the body with early pregnancy, can strain the body and rest will help with recuperation.
- Take prenatal vitamins as directed by a doctor. These supplements are important to ensure that there is adequate nutrition especially if appetite is suppressed due to morning sickness.
- Other measures like mild exercise, stress management techniques and adequate ventilation may also help with coping with the morning sickness.
Read more on vomiting after eating food.
When to See A Doctor
It is important to immediately seek medical attention in the following instances.
- If nausea and vomiting does not seem to improve even after trying all types of dietary and lifestyle remedies.
- If there is weight loss.
- If these is severe vomiting which lasts for more than 24 hours and no food or fluid can be retained.
- If morning sickness is persisting past the 16th week of pregnancy.
- If the vomiting is associated with other symptoms such as fever, diarrhea, abdominal pain, dizziness, weakness, fainting, or if there is blood in the vomit.
Treatment of Severe Nausea and Vomiting in Pregnancy
If there is excessive vomiting with signs of dehydration then hospitalization may be necessary.
- An intravenous (IV) drip will allow for fluid and electrolytes to be administered directly into the bloodstream when oral rehydration is not possible.
- Vitamin B6 supplementation may help with controlling the nausea in morning sickness without posing a risk to the baby provided. These supplements must be used within the prescribed dose.
- Antiemetics (drugs to control nausea) may be needed for severe and persistent nausea and vomiting. It should be avoided unless necessary and only if prescribed by a medical doctor.