Pregnancy Woes: Morning Sickness

There’s nothing that spoils the elation of a positive pregnancy test quite like the misery of morning sickness. While 50% of women have at least occasional nausea and vomiting during pregnancy, some are debilitated to the point that they can’t function or work.

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There’s nothing that spoils the elation of a positive pregnancy test quite like the misery of morning sickness. While 50% of women have at least occasional nausea and vomiting during pregnancy, some are debilitated to the point that they can’t function or work. 

Charlotte Brontë, the author of Jane Eyre, actually died from severe nausea and vomiting in the fourth month of her only pregnancy. Rest assured that this was in 1855, prior to the availability of IV fluids. Today, 1% of women are hit with this most severe form of morning sickness, known as hyperemesis, an illness that often requires hospitalization.

Obstetricians generally reassure their patients that the nausea will dissipate by the end of the third month, but some babies don’t get that memo and continue giving trouble for a much longer time. The only good news is that the typical nausea and vomiting of pregnancy is associated with a low rate of miscarriage and rarely affects the growth or development of the baby. If this brings you little comfort as you run to the bathroom for the third time in an hour, know that there are a number of solutions that will at least allow you to remain functional despite that yucky sick feeling.

The first step is to forget everything your books say about nutrition during pregnancy and focus on eating things that don’t provoke your gag reflex. Eating small amounts of bland, dry, high protein foods is your best bet. Lemons also seem to help, and while it has not been confirmed that ginger in food decreases nausea, one study established that ginger tablets seem to make a significant difference. To keep something in your stomach all the time, try eating multiple small snacks throughout the day rather than three big meals. Your goal is to maintain your weight and not get dehydrated. Even if you lose a few pounds and eat nothing more nutritious than popcorn and lemonade, there will be no impact on your baby’s health.

Vitamin B6 (10-25mg every 8 hours) and the antihistamine doxylamine has been shown in many studies to reduce nausea by as much as 70%. In addition, many anti-nausea drugs are safe in pregnancy for the 10% of women who have severe symptoms. If you are unable to keep anything down, call your doctor sooner rather than later.

Acupressure and acupuncture (anti-nausea wristbands) are worth trying since some studies show a benefit, but keep in mind that wearing one (unless you are on a boat) is the equivalent of putting a billboard on your forehead announcing that you are pregnant. So, if you are not ready to tell the world, I recommend long sleeves or lots of bangles.

Prior to my first pregnancy, I didn’t worry too much about handling the nausea that my patients complained of. In fact, I actually thought I would welcome it, hoping I wouldn’t be tempted to eat too much. But then it hit. Years later, certain triggers still bring back that horrible feeling which is impossible to fully appreciate unless you have experienced it yourself and helps me understand why my patients are so desperate for a solution.

Blog written by Lauren Streicher, MD
Dr. Lauren Streicher is an Assistant Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University’s medical...