Nausea and vomiting affects approximately 90% of women during their pregnancy. Morning sickness, or more formally ‘nausea and vomiting of pregnancy,’ classically starts early in the 1st trimester around weeks 4-6 and resolves by 12 weeks gestation. In 30% of cases however, the symptoms will continue past this period.
There are a few different explanations for why these symptoms develop. There is strong evidence to suggest that we can blame our pregnancy hormones such as human chorionic gonadotropin (ie. bHCG), oestrogen and progesterone which are found in high amounts in during this time.
Typical symptoms include nausea and vomiting which persists all day, which is quite interestingly in contrary to the term we use to describe it ‘morning sickness’. If you are a mother of younger age, this is your first baby, you are obese or overweight, or have a medical history of migraines or motion sickness, then these symptoms will often be much worse.
In most cases your symptoms will be mild and feelings of nausea and vomiting will disappear as your pregnancy progresses, hence aren’t harmful to your baby. However the symptoms may progress to a more severe condition known as Hyperemesis Gravidarum, which affects around 0.5-2% of pregnancies. To be diagnosed with this condition you must have severe nausea and vomiting, a weight loss of at least 5% from your pre-pregnant calculated weight, and associated dehydration and significant electrolyte disturbances which are molecules in your blood that indicate the body is severely dehydrated. This condition is more common if you are pregnant for the first time, are having more than one baby such as twins or triplets, a condition called trophoblastic disease, diagnosed problems with your baby’s growth, and if you have had a history of previous hyperemesis gravidarum already in your past pregnancies.
Any pregnant mother who suffers from significant nausea and vomiting is at risk of malnutrition and weight loss, as well as growth of your baby being compromised by lack of nutrients. Other complications related to excessive vomiting in this condition include Mallory Weiss tear whereby part of your oesophagus may break away and tear, and you may develop a retinal haemorrhage where one of your blood vessels in your eye ruptures.
To relieve your symptoms there is medication available called anti-emetics that your doctor can prescribe you. Vitamin B6 supplements have also shown to be of benefit in improving symptoms. Diet also plays a role as an alternative treatment to helping relieve symptoms.
Practical tips you can adopt to help ease nausea and vomiting include:
- Eat small meals frequently every 2-3hours to avoid your stomach becoming empty as this can cause and worsen any nausea you may feel
- Try eating more dry bland-tasting foods that are high in carbohydrates and low in fat content
- Avoid foods that upset the stomach such as spicy or highly acidic foods
- Avoid foods with strong smells
- Eat salty and tart foods together
- Try eating a few crackers each morning before you get out of bed
Ginger is also described as being a great complementary therapy in helping reduce nausea, and has been used for this purpose since ancient times. It is available either naturally raw or in a cooked form, and will help resolve symptoms quickly. Ginger capsules are however not recommended in pregnancy due to their unknown effects on fetal development.