What is morning sickness?
Morning sickness is a completely normal (although not particularly enjoyable) part of pregnancy and is a symptom that up to 80% of women experience, so if you're feeling wretched you're not alone!
While there is no one definite explanation as to why this common pregnancy symptom occurs it's generally accepted that the sudden rise of pregnancy hormones, hCG and oestrogen, during the first trimester are largely responsible. An increased sensitivity to smell (potentially due to a leftover evolutionary mechanism that protected our ancestors from eating toxic food while they were expecting) coupled with an excess of stomach acid (thanks to pregnancy hormones causing your digestive muscles to relax) are also thought to play a role.
Nausea, vomiting, headaches, tiredness and light headedness are all symptoms associated with morning sickness and while the name rather misleadingly suggests it's an 'AM' only condition, unfortunately it can strike any time of the day or night.
When does morning sickness start?
Many women start to experience morning sickness approximately 6 weeks after their last period as it is during these very early weeks that the levels of hCG, oestrogen and other related hormones rise rapidly to help the pregnancy become established and baby to develop.
How long does morning sickness last?
For most women the constant feeling of nausea associated with morning sickness usually subsides towards the end of the first trimester (typically around weeks 12 - 14) as by then your early pregnancy hormones have peaked, your baby's major internal organs are formed and he or she has started to grow rapidly. However, some women do experience nausea and sickness throughout their pregnancy while others are set off by certain smells or foods beyond this.
Will morning sickness harm my baby?
As long as you're able to keep enough food and fluid down to gain (or at least maintain) your weight you shouldn't be worried at all. In fact, some studies have actually shown that morning sickness is associated with lower miscarriage rates. Having said that, some (fortunate!) women experience no morning sickness at all and go on to have perfectly healthy pregnancies. However, if you are vomiting frequently and severely, are unable to manage any food at all and are losing weight because of this you should see your doctor as soon as possible. They will either prescribe you with an anti-emetic or anti-histamine to help relieve the sickness or, in more severe cases (known as hyperemesis gravidarum) hospital treatment may be necessary to prevent dehydration and a drip will be used to help fulfil your body's nutritional needs.
Morning sickness 'cures' and remedies
As symptoms of morning sickness differ between women, with some experiencing mild nausea and others severe vomiting, there is unfortunately no ' one works for all' cure however, if you're suffering there are a number of remedies that can help.
You may find that it helps to change your eating habits slightly so that instead of eating three 'main' meals a day, you have a smaller snack every few hours. This will help to keep your blood sugar levels stable, avoiding the 'sugar related' highs and lows that can make your nausea worse and will also help to keep indigestion and heartburn to a minimum. In general, it's better to go for plainer, low fat, carbohydrate rich foods than anything too rich, spicy or flavoured. However, if you are struggling to face food you should focus on eating whatever you can even if it's not 'by the book' healthy. Biscuits, crackers, dried fruit and nuts always make a handy morning sickness beating snack as they tend to be quite inoffensive to the stomach.
You'll tend to find that morning sickness is often triggered or made worse by certain smells and certain foods (potentially even those you loved before you became pregnant) so wherever possible it's best to avoid these. Keeping a hanky with a few drops of your favourite essential oil dotted on to hand can be good for a little relieve if you're in a situation where you can't escape a 'nauseating' smell.
If your sickness is particularly bad in the morning you may find that it helps to keep a couple of crackers or biscuits by your bed to snack on if you wake in the night or first thing in the morning before you get up as this can help to raise your blood sugar levels before you start moving around.
Make sure to keep your fluid intake up by drinking plenty of water and other soft drinks, this is especially important if you are actually being sick. While you should try and avoid caffeinated or sugary drinks you may find that fizzy beverages do a better job of settling your stomach, so it's worth giving it a go.
Morning sickness is generally accepted to get worse if you are tired, anxious or stressed so while it's easier said than done it really is important to take it easy and get plenty of rest and relaxation. Even though it may not help your sickness directly, you can often feel much better after talking about what you're going through so whether it's to a partner or friends, offloading whatever is bothering you can really help you to feel better.
A number of studies have suggested that vitamin B6 can help to relieve the feeling of nausea experienced in pregnancy and while supplements are favoured by some (although you should check with your doctor before taking them) you can boost your B6 intake by eating whole grains, bananas, corn , nuts, avocado, lean meat and fish. Vitamin B12 is said by some to relieve sickness and can be found in eggs, dairy products and meat.
Many women find that alternative therapies such as acupuncture, reflexology and aromatherapy help them get through the morning sickness phase. However, if this is of interest to you it's important to seek treatment from a qualified practitioner who has sufficient experience in treating women through pregnancy.
Travel sickness 'acupressure' bands are used by a number of women to treat morning sickness with great success. These are worn on the wrists, are readily available from supermarkets and chemists and can be a cheaper alternative to 'alternative therapies'. If you're going to try this out do take the time to follow the instructions and position the bands correctly so that you get the full benefit.
The taste or smell of peppermint or spearmint can help to relieve nausea for some women. Try sucking on sugar free mints, drinking mint tea, swilling mouthwash or keeping a hanky soaked with a few drops of mint essential oil to hand for a breath of 'fresh air' when you need it.
Ginger is renowned for its sickness relieving properties (although it doesn't work for everybody) so it's well worth a try. Ginger tea (made with ginger teabags or grated fresh ginger), ginger capsules or even ginger biscuits can help to settle your stomach.
Citrus fruits are another sickness relieving remedy to try as the fresh smell of lemon, lime or grapefruit can help to refresh you when you are feeling under the weather. Try dripping citrus essential oils onto a hanky or adding slices of lemon or lime to chilled or boiling water for a refreshing drink.