Morning sickness: Treatments, prevention, and when it starts

A person with morning sickness often feels tired and nauseous, and they may vomit. Although rarely serious, it can be incredibly unpleasant.

Morning sickness is also known as nausea gravidarum, nausea/vomiting of pregnancy (NVP), emesis gravidarum, and pregnancy sickness. For many women, the symptoms of morning sickness are their first signs of pregnancy.

Morning sickness affects around 80 percent of all pregnant females. Women who use hormonal contraception or HRT (hormone replacement therapy) may also have symptoms similar to morning sickness.

In the vast majority of cases, morning sickness, although an unpleasant experience, has no health risk for the baby and is a regular part of pregnancy. In fact, some studies indicate that morning sickness during pregnancy can be a sign of a healthy pregnancy, with lower rates of miscarriages and stillbirths, compared with pregnancies with no nausea or vomiting.

Fast facts on morning sickness

Here are some key points about morning sickness. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.

Morning sickness can occur at any time of the day or night.

The exact causes are still not known.

There are a number of home remedies that can help treat the symptoms of morning sickness.

A small amount of evidence suggests that ginger might ease the nausea.

Morning sickness may be a sign of a healthy pregnancy.

Treatment

Candied ginger
Ginger is commonly used to relieve nausea and vomiting, often in the form of ginger lozenges or candies.

For most cases of morning sickness, treatment by a doctor is not necessary. However, there are some things that might alleviate symptoms. A full list of these can be found in our article top tips to minimize morning sickness. However, here are a few ideas:

Rest – tiredness can make nausea worse. Getting plenty of rest is vital.

Liquids – fluid intake should be regular and in small amounts, rather than less often and in large quantities. This may help reduce vomiting. Sucking ice cubes made from water or fruit juice or trying lollipops can help.

Food – consuming more meals per day, with smaller portions may help, especially high-carbohydrate meals. Dry and savory foods, such as crackers or crispbread are usually better tolerated than sweet or spicy foods. Cold meals are often better tolerated than hot ones because they have less odor.

Empty stomach – pregnant women with morning sickness should try to avoid having an empty stomach.

Early morning – many women find that eating plain biscuits about 20 minutes before getting up helps.

Triggers – it does not take long to identify nausea triggers. Avoiding them helps reduce the frequency and severity of nausea and vomiting.

Medical treatment – if symptoms are still severe, despite attempting self-care measures, the doctor may recommend a short course of anti-sickness medication (antiemetic), which is safe to use during pregnancy.

Ginger supplement – some studies have shown that ginger supplement may help reduce nausea symptoms during pregnancy. Women should purchase this from a reputable source. Ginger supplements are available for purchase in health food stores or online.

B-6 and doxylamine – this combination is sold over the counter as Unisom SleepTabs. It has been recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for treating morning sickness during the first trimester. Trials have found this combination to be effective at reducing nausea and vomiting in up to 70 percent of cases. Side effects include drowsiness, dry mouth, headache, nervousness, and stomach pain. Unisom SleepTabs are available for purchase over the counter or online.

Diclegis – this drug is FDA-approved for use by pregnant women. One clinical trial found that Diclegis completely relieved nausea in 44 percent of women with morning sickness. Another study found that more than 70 percent of women reported improvements in symptoms.

Acupressure – this is the application of pressure on specific points on the body to control symptoms. It involves wearing a special band (sometimes called a sea-band) on the forearm. Some limited evidence suggests that this may help improve nausea and vomiting symptoms in pregnant women, although large-scale trials are lacking.

Morning sickness in woman sitting on edge of bed
Morning sickness is most common during the first trimester of pregnancy.

The exact causes of morning sickness are still not known; however, most agree that hormonal changes probably play a role:

Estrogen levels – experts believe it might be partly due to an increase in the circulating level of estrogen, which can be 100 times higher during pregnancy, compared with levels found in women who are not pregnant. However, there is no evidence to show a difference in estrogen levels between pregnant women with or without morning sickness.

Progesterone levels – when a woman is pregnant, her levels of progesterone also rise. High levels of progesterone relax the uterus (womb) muscles to prevent early childbirth. However, it may also relax the stomach and intestines, resulting in excess stomach acids and GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease, or acid reflux).

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