Morning sickness: Cause & help

Some women don't experience it at all, others may suffer from morning sickness unfortunately for weeks and months. If you often feel sick to your stomach, a certain smell turns your stomach or if you just feel nauseous, we have a few helpful tips for you.

Pregnant mum sat in bed in discomfort

What causes nausea during pregnancy?

The cause of nausea in pregnant women has not yet been completely determined with certainty. Scientists discuss how it could be due to changes in hormone levels, but low blood sugar levels can also lead to the infamous ‘morning sickness’. Other factors that may induce nausea include stress, a sensitive stomach or nutritional deficiencies. For some women, there also seems to be a hereditary connection: Did your mother suffer from morning sickness? Then there is a probability that you could also follow her pattern, which she experienced during her own pregnancy.

How long do nausea and vomiting last in pregnant women?

Every woman reacts differently, some women feel nauseous in the morning, others feel nauseous all day and some women have both nausea and actual vomiting, whilst others don’t experience this at all. The duration of this also varies from woman to woman: it usually starts in the 5th week of pregnancy as one of the first signs of pregnancy, and usually ends, thankfully, by the 12th week. In rare cases, nausea and vomiting do continue throughout the entire pregnancy. If you are experiencing vomiting or nausea which is frequent and causing you to be unable to eat or drink enough, then it is really important that you speak to your midwife or doctor as soon as possible. Some women need medications and further treatment to support them through this difficult time.

At a glance: What can help with morning sickness?

  • Eat little, but often: Always have a snack ready, even if you actually don’t feel like it. Often having an empty stomach can increase the feeling of nausea .

  • Try and eat foods that are good for you, but don’t put too much pressure on yourself during this difficult time, sometimes we have to realise that at least eating something which you can keep in your stomach is okay, and of course better than eating nothing! Once you’re feeling better you will of course find it much easier to get back on track with the healthy eating. It is advised though to avoid greasy, spicy, sour or fried foods during this phase, as they often make the nausea worse.

  • Drink enough fluids: If you can't drink fluids, suck on ice cubes. Try ginger tea or ginger tablets. Ginger root can have a soothing effect on the stomach and helps with nausea – but of course it’s not for everyone.
  • Keep a diary: note when you feel better or worse. You may notice a pattern and find out when you can eat and drink more easily.
  • Talk to your midwife/doctor about additional nutritional supplements. you may be recommended to seek relief through acupuncture or reflexology, for example.
  • Try to relax as much as you can during this time: If necessary, consider taking some sick leave from work, as stress and fatigue can make your nausea worse.
  • Only take iron supplements if you have an iron deficiency: if you are needing to take iron supplements and are finding they are affecting your digestive system, discuss this with your midwife or doctor. They will be able to talk to you about trying different supplements as some are more digestible than others.
  • Try acupressure bands: Acupressure bands were developed for seasickness and have helped many pregnant women get through this period.
  • Don't self-medicate. Your doctor will prescribe medication to relieve severe nausea and vomiting during pregnancy if you need it.

Despite vomiting and nausea: Is my baby well cared for?

Eating and drinking regularly despite morning sickness is hard work. For almost all women their body has enough energy reserves to provide their growing baby with what they need during this time. But of course, as we said before, if the vomiting or nausea are really quite severe, frequent throughout the day and are preventing you from eating or drinking much at all, it is really important that you get medical assistance quickly. This may mean that the doctor needs to provide you with extra fluids and nutrients until this phase passes or settles down to ensure you and your baby get enough nutrition. During this phase you will be closely monitored and supported by your healthcare provider. Fortunately, it is very rare that women have this severe form of morning sickness, known as Hyperemesis gravidarum.

For most women, thankfully this phase passes but understandably it can feel really rather horrible whilst you’re going through it. Be kind to yourself, and try not to put additional pressures on top right now. If your body is saying rest, then try and listen to it, don’t be tempted to push through and ignore it. There is a huge amount going on inside your body for both you and your growing baby right now; sometimes it’s good to just slow down for a few weeks, this is not a weakness, this is listening to your body. Normally, for many women as the second trimester kicks in thankfully, life starts to feel much easier again!

References

1. Marshall, J.E. and Raynor, M.D. (2020) Myles Textbook for Midwives. 17th ed. London: Elsevier