Morning sickness may have been the first indicator for you that you might be pregnant. Maybe it hit you shortly after finding out you were pregnant. Or maybe you’re one of the lucky ones and it hasn’t hit you at all. Whether you’re dealing with mild, moderate or severe morning sickness, it can definitely be a “not-so-fun” beginning to your nine-month journey and a total buzzkill during an otherwise joyous time. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel, says Rashmi Bolinjkar, M.D., an OB/GYN on the medical staff at Texas Health Allen and Texas Health Women’s Care – Allen, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice. We spoke with her to understand what morning sickness is and why it happens, plus her tips for pushing past it until it subsides.
Why Morning Sickness Happens
You may start feeling nauseous around the sixth week of your pregnancy, or typically two weeks after your first missed period. Key symptoms of morning sickness are vomiting and nausea during pregnancy, and Bolinjkar says more than 50 percent of pregnant women experience it, especially during their first trimester. But despite its name, morning sickness doesn’t mean you will only feel sick in the morning.
“Pregnant women can have morning sickness at any time of day,” Bolinjkar explains. “Nausea during pregnancy is most likely caused by the sudden increase of hormones in your body. Morning sickness symptoms can also be triggered by or cause strong aversions to certain smells and foods, heat, or excess salivation. It can also mimic the feeling of being seasick or nauseated after eating which can lead to vomiting.”
Morning sickness typically occurs within the first nine weeks of pregnancy but tends to peak around 10 weeks and usually subsides by 14 to 16 weeks, she adds. But for some women, nausea and vomiting might continue past that time, or become severe. Within the last few years, Duchess Kate Middleton has raised awareness of severe morning sickness, or hyperemesis gravidarum, which she’s experienced during each of her three pregnancies, and required hospitalization for.
“Hyperemesis gravidarum happens when severe nausea and vomiting leads to dehydration or causes the woman to lose more than 5 percent of her pregnancy body weight,” Bolinjkar explains. “Because of this, sometimes she may not get enough nutrients, leading to malnourishment. If this is the case, she may have to stay in the hospital to get fluids, medication, and rarely, a feeding tube.”
If you’re feeling a pang of fear (and nausea) after reading that, it’s good to add that hyperemesis gravidarum typically occurs in only .5 to 2 percent of pregnancies.
Thankfully there are quite a few things you can do to try to reduce or avoid symptoms.
In many cases, prescriptions may not be required. A few behavioral things you can try include drinking fluids regularly in small amounts and eating smaller proportions high in carbs and protein and low in fat. If a bout of nausea hits, you can try consuming products that contain ginger, sucking on ice cubes or lollipops, or eating dry crackers.
“Avoid greasy, spicy or fatty foods, because they can make things worse,” Bolinjkar says. “Bland foods, such as bananas, rice, applesauce and toast may be easy to digest. Salty foods are sometimes helpful, as are foods that contain ginger. Remember, an empty stomach may make nausea worse so snack often and eat small portions throughout the day, rather than eating three larger meals.”
“Breathing fresh air can also help,” she adds. “Weather permitting, open the windows in your home or workplace or take a daily walk outdoors.”
Because dehydration can also make nausea worse, make sure you’re drinking plenty of fluids — ideally six to eight cups of noncaffeinated fluids every day.
If those don’t do the trick, you can turn to over the counter medications, but it’s always best to consult with your physician beforehand to make sure it’s safe for you and your unique health factors. If you’re having trouble sleeping because of nausea or find yourself waking up in the middle night because you’re queasy, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend using a combination of Unisom SleepTabs (Doxylamine succinate) along with vitamin B-6 during your first trimester. Take 10 to 25 mg of vitamin B-6 three times a day, every six to eight hours, then take 25 mg of Unisom SleepTabs once before bed.
If combining OTC medications make you feel a bit uneasy, your physician can prescribe you Diclegis®, an FDA-approved prescription medication that contains both doxylamine succinate and a form of vitamin B6.
“Trials have shown it reduces nausea and vomiting in up to 70 percent of cases,” Bolinjkar adds. “But side effects include drowsiness, dry mouth, headache, nervousness, and stomach pain. That being said, there are other medications that we can prescribe as well, and your doctor can discuss side effects with you.”
Be Mindful of Alternative Remedies
As with almost anything these days, you can hop on the internet and find forums, blogs and webpages recommending alternative remedies to conventional medicine, which you should proceed with caution when considering.
Because something is “all-natural” doesn’t necessarily mean it is safer, more effective or even appropriate for pregnant women.
“There is a myth around marijuana, claiming that it calms you down and helps with morning sickness,” says Bolinjkar. “Beyond the fact that it is not legal in the state of Texas, there are not many studies evaluating the impact of marijuana on pregnant women. Some of the studies I’ve seen show that if you use marijuana during pregnancy, your child could have trouble with learning, memory, attention and behavior later in life. Additionally, smoking marijuana during pregnancy can cause premature birth. So, it’s best not to use it.”
While herbal remedies might seem like a better option than medicines because they come from plants, oftentimes herbal remedies have side effects and may not be safe for you or your baby when consumed in large amounts.
Now that we know a bit more about morning sickness, we wanted to ask about some frequently talked about myths surrounding morning sickness such as if it can predict the gender of your baby or if the absence of it means something is wrong with you or your pregnancy.
“While it is correct that fading pregnancy symptoms, such as morning sickness, can occur with a miscarriage, just because symptoms have disappeared, doesn’t mean you have had a miscarriage,” Bolinjkar explains. “Some women never feel nauseated during their pregnancy, while it is usually mild and will go away halfway through pregnancy for many women. That being said, 20 to 30 percent of pregnant women never experience any morning sickness but give birth to perfectly healthy babies.”
And no, there is no truth to morning sickness predicting if you will have a boy or a girl, she adds.
Most morning sickness is natural and shouldn’t be a matter of concern. It shouldn’t affect your health or your baby’s. But, extreme morning sickness, especially if you have trouble eating or drinking fluids, can affect your weight and subsequently your baby’s weight at birth.
Contact your doctor immediately if you have a fever of 100.4 F or above, have persistent vomiting and are not able to keep any food or drink down for 24 hours, have very dark-colored urine or do not pass urine for more than eight hours, feel severely weak, dizzy or faint when standing up, have tummy pain, or vomit blood.
You should also reach out to your doctor if morning sickness is affecting your quality of life and ask them about treatment options. Oftentimes, they can work with you to find the perfect remedy until it subsides, typically around your second trimester.
Finding support and guidance you can trust throughout your pregnancy can help relieve anxiety or stress and make sure you’re staying healthy and safe. Texas Health is here for you every step of the way. For more information for moms-to-be, visit TexasHealth.org.