I was visiting with a friend yesterday who’s pregnant and dealing with terrible morning sickness. I felt so sorry for her, remembering that awful feeling. It’s like a bad hangover, but without the fun times from the night before. When you go through IVF treatments (as I did), you know you’re pregnant before the morning sickness kicks in. So you have time to be all ecstatic thinking about your bundle of joy and then reality arrives. The nausea. The dizziness. The complete exhaustion. Where’s the bliss? Where’s the pregnancy glow? Why didn’t anyone warn me?
What causes morning sickness?
Unfortunately, doctors still aren’t really sure what causes morning sickness, but the most often cited reason is the increase in hormone levels, specifically hCG or human chorionic gonadotropin. This hormone is produced at higher levels during the first trimester than at any other point during your pregnancy. Other causes of morning sickness include:
- Estrogen and other hormones also rise during pregnancy and may be a contributing factor.
- Many women have an enhanced sense of smell during pregnancy which can cause nausea.
- You may have a predisposition to morning sickness. For example, if you come from a family of women who suffered through morning sickness, or you battle migraines, or have a history of motion sickness, you’re more likely to be affected by morning sickness.
This is all well and good, but when will it go away and what can you do about it?
How long does it last?
OK, so here’s the answer you don’t want to hear: it varies! The good news is that half of all pregnant women get relief from morning sickness by the time they reach 14 weeks. The bad news is that for some women, the symptoms will last another month; and for others, the morning sickness will remain throughout the pregnancy or come and go the entire time. Yuck!
How can I treat it?
Be sure to speak with your doctor if your morning sickness is severe or round-the-clock and prevents you from keeping anything down. There are many ways to try to minimize or eliminate the nausea and vomiting of pregnancy – I’ll list some here:
- Have a protein snack before bed. This increases the chances that you will have some food in your stomach when you wake in the morning, and give you enough time to nibble on something before the nausea takes hold. This worked wonders for me. I would eat 2 hard-boiled eggs and 4 Saltines each night before bed. Since eggs are a pregnancy super food (they are loaded with vitamins and minerals and choline, which is great for baby’s brain development and preventing neural tube defects) I was giving Cakes a benefit as well!
- Avoid foods and smells that triggers your nausea. I have a friend who would get sick every time she smelled toothpaste. I couldn’t imagine – because the one thing you want to do after getting sick is brush your teeth! Another friend of mine would get nauseous each time she smelled tomato sauce, which was a challenge for her coming from an Italian family where pasta sauce was central to the meal for Sunday dinner!
- Keep simple foods, like crackers, by your bed. Upon waking up, eat a few crackers but then continue laying down
for 20-30 minutes. When you do get up, move slowly as this can also help avoid the nausea. I should also mention – this isn’t the time to be especially worried about eating a balanced diet. Don’t stress too much about it at this point – the stress may also cause morning sickness and you can worry about nutrition when you start to feel better.
- Avoid nonfood triggers. A warm or stuffy room, heavy perfume or a ride in the car can all cause nausea. Even things like flickering lights or moving too quickly may have an impact. Try to be aware of these situations and avoid them whenever possible. Being in rooms that were warm or stuffy was not good for me – I always felt much better when I could be near an open window breathing in fresh air. I can remember standing on our back deck in my pajamas in the middle of winter a few times because the brisk air was so refreshing and helped settle my stomach.
- Ginger or peppermint may help. But the ginger needs to be real and most of the ginger ale products that are sold in local supermarkets don’t include real ginger as an ingredient. Try grating some fresh ginger into hot water for a ginger tea, or eat candied ginger or peppermint candy.
- Acupuncture or acupressure. There’s a product called Sea Bands that’s been shown to help alleviate nausea related to pregnancy, motion and chemotherapy. They are wristbands with a small pressure point that rests on the inside of your wrist. I did not use these during pregnancy, but I did use them on a cruise when we were in rough seas and they alleviated my nausea.
- Medical options. If you’ve tried everything else, speak to your doctor to see if anything medically can be done. For example, vitamin B6 supplements have been known to help with morning sickness. Other medications exist, but the research on their safety for use during pregnancy is limited, so your doctor can review the pros and cons of using these medications during pregnancy.
When should I worry?
If you have morning sickness that causes you to be unable to keep anything down, including clear liquids, medications and vitamins, contact your doctor as you may have a severe form of morning sickness that needs to be treated. It’s also a good idea to call your doctor if you become dehydrated (you have dark colored urine or urinate infrequently), you still have nausea and vomiting into your 5th month of pregnancy, or you lose 2 or more pounds.
As always, it’s best to try to get as much rest as possible. Your body is going through lots of changes and is devoting all of your energy to making a baby. Listen to your body and be kind to it. Rest is best. Before you know it, the morning sickness will be a distant memory and you’ll be cradling your sweet little baby in your arms.