Morning sickness and nausea are two of the most common complaints of the first trimester of pregnancy. Some women will experience just a bit of queasiness when they first wake up. Others might experience it at a different time of the day. Some women will feel sick enough to vomit at times. Still others will notice that they have very marked food likes and dislikes during this time. All in all, almost three quarters of expecting women will experience some form of this problem.
WHY NAUSEA AND MORNING SICKNESS?
Despite its prevalence, the causes of morning sickness are not known for certain. Some possible reasons for it include:
- Adjustment to the increased level of hormones: The early pregnancy months are marked by an increase in estrogen and HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), which is the hormone that maintains the body’s estrogen levels. By the second trimester most women’s bodies adjust to the higher levels all by themselves.
- Low blood sugar: This may be why some women experience a feeling of nausea first thing in the morning or after a prolonged time without food. In the early part of pregnancy the fasting blood sugar level reaches lower levels than in the non-pregnant state. The bodies basal metabolic rate also speeds up and therefore the symptoms of low blood sugar (nausea, shakiness and fatigue) can happen much more quickly than usual.
- Changes in the production of stomach acids and digestive enzymes: When a woman becomes pregnant her digestive functions slow down to allow for greater absorption of nutrients. Part of this slowing down includes lesser production of hydrochloric acid and other digestive enzymes. This may contribute to a feeling of nausea and explain why heartburn is a symptom for some women.
- B-complex deficiencies: Some women may need more B-complex vitamins than they are getting in their daily diets, especially vitamin B6, which helps the body to metabolize protein. This seems to be particularly true for women who are under a great deal of stress, have taken birth control pills recently, or who are prone to motion sickness. Over-cooked and over-processed foods contribute to a lack of B vitamins in our diets.
- Fatigue: Some women discover that becoming over-tired increases the tendency to feel nauseous.
- Stress: Pregnancy is stressful because it is a time of change. The changes may be desirable, but require a great deal of adjustment nonetheless.
- Protection: There is some speculation that morning sickness may be nature’s way of protecting the fetus from toxins present in some strong vegetables or spices.
TIPS FOR REDUCING MORNING SICKNESS
To help cope and cut down on the amount of morning sickness and digestive problems you experience, try these tips:
- Increase your levels of protein. This may help to stabilize your blood sugar.
- Try to eat frequent small meals throughout the day. Take small snacks, such as trail mix, with you whenever you go out. Some women find it helpful to have food by the side of their beds so they can nibble something during the night or first thing in the morning, before they even stand up. Eating saltines is one of those cliches of pregnancy, but it does seems to help many women. Granola bars, bread, protein smoothies and bananas may help as well and add more nutrients than a cracker will.
- Avoid foods that are spicy, high-fat, rich or high in sugar. It may also make sense to completely avoid caffeine.
- Eating in a healthy way when you’re extremely nauseous can be challenging. Taking a pre-natal vitamin can help insure adequate vitamin levels, although it should not be used as a substitute for a good diet. Experiment with the best time of day to take your supplement because taking it on an empty stomach may contribute to nausea. Taking it with a meal is usually best.
- Listen to your body. If you are having strong cravings or aversions to certain foods, there may be reasons for it. Give your body what she feels comfortable with.
- To avoid frequent heartburn, try papaya enzyme (papain) with your meals, consuming acidophilus in yogurt or kefir drinks, drinking liquids between meals rather than with them, or drinking bubbly mineral water, which makes you burp.
- Increase your consumption of B-complex vitamins. B6 seems to be particularly helpful. B6 rich foods include blackstrap molasses, wheat germ, yeast, wheat bran, bananas, avocados, dried beans, eggs and meat. Try adding .50 to 2 milligrams of it to your daily diet. You can get about a half a milligram by eating 1 banana, 1 slice of watermelon, a serving of salmon or a large baked potato.
- Some women find that the smell of food and cooking odors is so overwhelming that they need to avoid it as much as possible. Here’s a good excuse to have someone else do the cooking for a while! Other odors, such as perfumes, may also present a problem. Use aromatherapy: try essential oils instead of strong-smelling perfumes. Choose personal care products with pleasing, healing scents or no scent at all.
- Get adequate rest. Many women report that simply lying down helps relieve symptoms. Try, however, to get at least a little exercise even if it seems like moving about will make you feel worse. Light exercise, such as walking or yoga, seems to alleviate pregnancy nausea.
- Ginger is a very effective natural remedy for nausea. You can purchase it as a tea or make your own from 1 teaspoon of fresh grated ginger or 1/2 teaspoon of dried ginger, or take one or two 500 mg. capsules. Nibbling on crystallized or candied ginger can also help. The effects will last at least 4 hours. Taking ginger in very large quantities has been known to help women with severe vomiting in early pregnancy, although this should be done only under medical supervision. Ginger has been well studied and is known to be safe, although its blood-thinning effects mean you should avoid it in the final weeks of pregnancy. To make fresh ginger tea, cut a fresh ginger root into chunks and boil in one to two cups of water for 20 minutes. Serve with honey and lemon.
- Chamomile, peppermint, spearmint, fennel, raspberry leaves, and wild yam have been shown to be helpful in relieving digestive problems during pregnancy. You can use these in tea form or purchase tinctures and add them to a small amount of water. Herbal scents can also soothe. Try filling a small bag or cloth bundle with cloves, cinnamon, rosemary or others and breathing in the scent when you feel ill. These particular herbs are safe for use during pregnancy, but not all herbs are. Check with your practitioner before using herbs or any other supplements.
- Try these acupressure techniques for relief. Probe each point described below deeply. You should feel a twinge. Then stimulate each one for a few minutes. The first point to try is two thumb widths above the crease on the inner surface of the wrist, directly in line with the middle finger. Another other point is between the breasts, directly over the sternal notch. The hollow at the base of the front of the neck is another to try, especially to reduce the urge to vomit. You can also try the motion sickness pressure-point bands available at most pharmacies. These are worn like bracelets, and have been shown to be extremely effective.
- Acupuncture, which uses fine needles to stimulate certain points, is an excellent aid for nausea and other digestive problems. You need to find a licensed practitioner for this treatment.
- Try this aromatherapy technique for morning sickness: mix 3 drops of lavender essential oil with 1 drop of peppermint essential oil and put this into an aromatherapy diffuser or a bowl of warm water and allow it to scent the room. To help relieve nausea, try placing a cool lavender oil compress on your forehead and a warm lavender oil compress over the front of your rib cage. Make these by mixing either cool or warm water with a few drops of lavender oil, and then soaking a washcloth in it. It can also help to inhale peppermint oil on its own, or drink a cup of strong peppermint tea. Aromatherapy can also help with actual vomiting. Add 7 drops of lemon or lavender oil to 1 ounce of carrier oil: massage over the abdomen, or simply inhale the essences
- Several homeopathic remedies can help. Nux Vomica is recommended for vomiting and vertigo. Ipecacuanhua is a remedy for nausea with irritability. It is safe to take these in potencies of 12x or 30x. It is best to consult with a professional homeopath who can prescribe mixtures that are just right for you
THERE IS AN END IN SIGHT
Luckily, morning sickness usually goes away by the fourth month. A few women may experience some nausea throughout their pregnancies, but these cases are rare. Many women do continue to have problems with heartburn, however.
It may also help to know that there seems to be positive side to morning sickness and nausea. Studies show a significantly lower risk of miscarriage and stillbirth if nausea or vomiting is present. Also, fewer low birthweight babies are born to women who experience these symptoms.
If your nausea and vomiting are so severe that you cannot eat, it is important to seek outside help. Consult with your midwife or doctor right away.
Peggy O’Mara is the editor and publisher of peggyomara.com. She founded Mothering.com in 1995 and was its editor-in chief until 2012. She was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine from 1980 to 2011. The author of Having a Baby Naturally; Natural Family Living; The Way Back Home; and A Quiet Place, Peggy has conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, and Bioneers. She is the mother of four and grandmother of two.