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Morning Sickness: Causes, Symptoms and Remedies

There are a few things that everybody associates with pregnancy, whether they have or haven’t been pregnant, whether they do or do not have any knowledge whatsoever about what it’s like to carry a baby. One of these is morning sickness. Because such a well-known facet of pregnancy, there are a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings about the phenomenon, even including its name, which implies that morning sickness is limited to a particular time of day.

Misconceptions or not, many women fear morning sickness and worry about whether or not it will cause them to suffer during their pregnancy. So to help clear up some erroneous beliefs and build a more solid understanding of the reality of morning sickness, here is a guide that covers everything from what morning sickness is to how to handle it to how concerned you should or should not be about it.

What is Morning Sickness?

As a general phenomenon, morning sickness refers to the experience of nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. Despite its misleading name, morning sickness can and does occur during all hours of the day, though some report that it is more likely to happen early in the morning. 

There is also a severe form of morning sickness called hyperemesis gravidarum, which impacts about three percent of women. Hyperemesis gravidarum (or HG) involves severe nausea, vomiting, dehydration, weight loss, and sometimes feeling faint. 

When Does Morning Sickness Start?

Most commonly, morning sickness starts during the 4th week of pregnancy and lasts until the 16th. However, as you can probably guess, as is often the case with pregnancy, this is also a “rule” with many exceptions. About 10% of women still have morning sickness after the 20th week of their pregnancy, and some even experience it all the way until they deliver. The same goes for HG. However, there’s no need to panic because, in the vast majority of cases, morning sickness passes by soon after the start of the second trimester.

Morning Sickness Symptoms

The symptoms of morning sickness are generally rather straightforward, including:

  • A feeling of nausea and queasiness, sort of like feeling seasick or carsick
  • Aversion to certain smells and foods that are powerful and strong enough to make you vomit
  • Feelings of nausea that often occur in the early hours of the day, though they may surface at any hour
  • Queasiness that comes with or is immediately followed by hunger pangs
  • Nausea after eating
  • Nausea strong enough to lead to vomiting

Note that ⅔ of women with morning sickness have both nausea and vomiting while ⅓ only have nausea.

Morning Sickness Remedies

While the symptoms of morning sickness are straightforward, the urban legends and myths are usually in the realm of remedies. Here are just some of the many suggestions that people swear by for curing, easing, or preventing morning sickness. Of course, it’s likely to be quite an individual matter what does and doesn’t end up working for you, but most of these are quite easy to try.

First, try eating smaller meals and snacks instead of large meals. This will help stop you from experiencing significant spikes of blood sugar or extreme hunger, which can both cause nausea. When you are feeling nauseous and need to eat, complex carbohydrates are a good option as they are healthy and easy to digest.

Woman is chilling in bed with her laptop and eating healthy foods during pregnancy

However, you should make an effort to keep your blood sugar stable by eating a balanced diet including all the macronutrients: carbs, protein, and fat. Of course, the healthier your food choices are, the better, so try balancing those classic unhealthy pregnancy cravings (chocolate-covered potato chips, anyone?) with healthier fats and proteins like legumes, nuts, and avocados.

Eating breakfast will also help to keep your blood sugar balanced and ward off your nausea, especially if it includes all of the macronutrients. Additionally, many people swear that particular foods help ward off their morning sickness. These range from sour foods like pickles and citrus to salty foods and cold foods. Tart popsicles made from real fruit can be a good option to get both your sour and cold in.

That being said, don’t force yourself to eat foods that make your stomach turn. If there’s a food you’re used to eating whose scent suddenly makes you gag, just make it easy on yourself and stay away from it. If you find yourself vomiting a lot from your morning sickness, make sure to put in the effort to get your fluids. If drinking a lot of water doesn’t appeal to you, try to eat fruits and vegetables with high water content like watermelon and celery or do that popsicle trick we mentioned above.

You can also try eating ginger, which is an old wives’ tale that is actually pretty effective. Whether you go the route of ginger ale, ginger tea, ginger supplements, ginger candy, or ginger snap cookies, keeping around lots of foods and drinks with strong ginger flavors and scents can really help keep your nausea at bay. Remember to take into account your local diet recommendations for during pregnancy though, as in some countries it is recommended to limit the intake of ginger during pregnancy.

Cup of ginger tea which is believed to help with morning sickness

Other dietary supplements that have been said to help include magnesium and vitamin B6. But if you don’t want to take supplements or can’t fathom the idea of choking down another capsule in addition to your prenatal, you can get your B6 in the form of foods such as avocados, pistachios, and sunflower seeds, which are all also great sources of healthy fats. For magnesium, you also have the option of magnesium sprays and Epsom salts that you can soak your feet or body in for double the soothing power.

Actually, relaxing and taking it easy can potentially play an important role in treating your morning sickness, as rushing to and from tends to make nausea worse. So take things slow, get lots of sleep, take naps if you feel like it, and don’t get out of bed too quickly in the morning.

If you do want to be active, consider going on walks outside. Many women swear by fresh air as a way to relieve their nausea, as being too hot and stuffy can be a morning sickness trigger. It’s also a good idea to keep your windows open and use a fan or your air conditioning system to keep things nice and cool in your home environment.

And don’t forget to take care of your oral hygiene. Keeping your mouth fresh by brushing, flossing, and using mouthwash might help reduce queasiness, and it can mitigate the negative effects of vomiting on your teeth and gums. 

If none of the above options are doing it for you, you can always try some of the alternative health solutions like acupuncture, acupressure, hypnosis, and biofeedback. If they do the trick for you, who cares if they are scientifically backed or not?

And, of course, you can always talk to your doctor and ask to be put on medication. But make sure you don’t try out any meds unless they are both approved and prescribed by your physician.

What Causes Morning Sickness?

Another morning sickness-related topic that has a lot of myths and rumors surrounding it is the question of why, for Pete’s sake, women have to have morning sickness to begin with. Unfortunately, nobody knows for sure, but there is no shortage of theories to be found.

Generally speaking, doctors think that it has something to do with pregnancy hormones. In particular, the hormone human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG) is thought to be associated with morning sickness. It could be true, as women pregnant with multiples (twins, triplets, etc.), have higher pregnancy hormone levels and are more likely to suffer from morning sickness. Additionally, the protein GDF15 has also been called out as a potential cause of the phenomenon.

In addition to these theories, there have been plenty of potential evolutionary causes stipulated. For example, some people believe that having morning sickness prevents expecting mothers from eating exotic, funky foods that could potentially cause harm to their babies.

In fact, in addition to making you feel sick, the protein GDF15 may play a role in decreasing the risk of miscarriage, so there is reason to believe that being nauseous in someway benefits pregnant women.

There is also the possibility that fatigue and stress play a role in morning sickness, as they do tend to mess with your system’s balance and pregnant women are certainly no strangers to being tired and worried.

It’s also worth noting that nausea during pregnancy may to a certain extent be a matter of genetics, as women whose sisters and mothers have experienced morning sickness or more likely to have it themselves.

Interestingly, you’re also more likely to have morning sickness in your first pregnancy, and it is usually more severe than in later pregnancies. Whether this is because first-time moms are more stressed than more experienced ones or their bodies are just less prepared for the onslaught of pregnancy hormones is unclear.

Pregnant woman laying on her side in bed

Can Morning Sickness Hurt My Baby?

Morning sickness is definitely not a pleasant experience for you and, with all of the heaving, tension, and vomiting that it involves, you may wonder if it can potentially even be harmful to your baby. The good news is that your baby isn’t feeling nauseous just because you are.

You may also be happy to note that at the time when morning sickness is at its worst, during the first trimester, it’s not a huge deal if you’re eating less than usual, as your fetus is still so tiny that its nutritional needs are not significantly more than your own. Even if you lose weight, as long as you gain it back later on in your pregnancy, your baby will be fine.

However, if you do have HG, which is discussed above, or your morning sickness is so bad that you can’t keep down food or fluids, and it persists into your second trimester and later on, it is a good idea to consult with your OB-GYN to see if there are any special precautions you need to take to make sure your baby (and you) don’t suffer any negative consequences.

Learn more: Ask Lola&Lykke Experts questions about maternal health.

Is It Bad if I Have No Morning Sickness?

Because you’ve probably grown up believing that morning sickness is a normal part of pregnancy, you may be confused or even concerned if you don’t experience it. The good news is that the absence of morning sickness is nothing but cause to celebrate. While it is quite common, up to 25% of pregnant women don’t experience it at all. So if you’re able to eat and smell all the same foods you did before you got pregnant without any feelings of nausea and queasiness, you’re not weird, you’re just lucky! So don’t waste any energy worrying about a lack of morning sickness. Just thank your lucky stars and enjoy your pregnancy.