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Morning Sickness: A Complete Guide to Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Morning Sickness: A Complete Guide to Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Morning sickness is certainly not a pleasant part of pregnancy, yet it’s very common. In fact, morning sickness impacts 80 percent of pregnant women. Although it’s not considered a serious concern, morning sickness can be uncomfortable, exhausting, and sometimes painful.

The good news is, there are ways to treat it. From simple solutions to over-the-counter medications, there are countless remedies to help relieve morning sickness symptoms.

What is morning sickness?

Before we dive into the many ways to combat this condition, it’s important to understand what causes morning sickness and when to seek treatment.

Simply put, morning sickness is when nausea and vomiting occurs during pregnancy. If you’ve suffered from nausea before, that’s exactly what morning sickness feels like, and it’s usually characterized by an urge to vomit. The seasick, queasy feeling caused by morning sickness can often be followed by intense hunger pangs.

Given its name, you’d think morning sickness exclusively occurs in the early hours of the day, but that’s actually not the case. Pregnancy-induced nausea can strike at any time, including in the evening. Indeed, morning sickness at night is not unheard of.

When does morning sickness start?

Generally, morning sickness starts during the first trimester, beginning around six weeks after conception, and reaches a peak at nine weeks. Most often, morning sickness symptoms end by the middle of the second trimester, though that’s not always the case for all mothers-to-be. In rare instances, morning sickness can persist through the entire pregnancy, and those that experience it usually have symptoms for a certain period of time each day—or, in some cases, all day long.

Morning sickness symptoms

If you have morning sickness, the symptoms are very obvious and, therefore, quite easy to diagnose. Common morning sickness symptoms include:
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Motion sickness
  • Strong aversions to certain smells and foods

Although sometimes morning sickness can be triggered by specific things (such as spicy foods, overheating, or excess salivation), symptoms often appear at random.

What does morning sickness feel like?

While morning sickness is often accompanied by other pregnancy symptoms (like a change in breasts, mood swings, backaches, and food aversions), for the most part, it really just feels like nausea.

Nausea typically results in a feeling of heaviness, indigestion, and general discomfort, and as previously mentioned, is most often associated with an urge to vomit.

Sudden and persistent nausea is usually one of the first signs of pregnancy, so if you experience the classic symptoms of morning symptoms outlined above, be sure to take a pregnancy test.

Morning sickness causes

Now that you know what morning sickness is, you should also understand what causes the uncomfortable condition to strike in the first place.

The truth is, the cause of morning sickness is not entirely clear and usually depends on the individual pregnancy. In some cases, morning sickness can be triggered by low blood sugar, the rise of pregnancy hormones, stress, exhaustion, motion sickness, or sensitivity to certain foods.

Morning sickness diagnosis

Diagnosing morning sickness is simple. In most cases, no clinical exams are required, and a doctor can diagnose you based on common signs and symptoms, like persistent nausea and vomiting.

That being said, urine samples and blood tests can help your doctor determine whether you are dehydrated, malnourished, or anemic, which could indicate that you have severe morning sickness symptoms.

How long does morning sickness last?

As we noted above, morning sickness can lessen after the first trimester, or it can persist throughout a pregnancy. For most women, though, morning sickness symptoms typically subside by 14 weeks of pregnancy. Although symptoms of morning sickness can come on gradually, they sometimes appear suddenly.

When is morning sickness the worst?

Although some women who are experiencing morning sickness symptoms simply feel sick for an hour or so in the morning, others feel perpetually ill throughout the day and evening. In more severe cases, vomiting can occur frequently.

Also, it’s important to bear in mind that just because you have mild morning sickness with your first child does not mean that will be the case with future pregnancies. When it comes to morning sickness, every pregnancy is different.

Morning sickness relief

While morning sickness can unquestionably be a painful part of the pregnancy process, there are things you can do to decrease nausea and relieve other symptoms. Not only are there effective at-home remedies for morning sickness, there are also over-the-counter medications to consider, plus several preventative measures you can take to stave off morning sickness from happening in the first place.

However you choose to manage your morning sickness, be sure to consult with your healthcare provider before trying out medications or alternative remedies.

Methods to prevent morning sickness

Staying hydrated and ensuring you are well rested are two critical and simple things you can do to avoid morning sickness. The following steps will also provide some natural morning sickness relief:

  • Drink fluids before and after meals.
  • Avoid high-fat and spicy foods.
  • Do light exercise everyday to stimulate blood flow, and avoid spending too much time lying down, which can exacerbate dizziness.
  • Eat a snack immediately upon waking up to settle your stomach.
  • Eat multiple meals with smaller portions rather than three large meals.
  • Take a prenatal vitamin prior to conceiving.
  • Avoid smells that might induce nausea.

Best foods to combat morning sickness

Beyond avoiding certain foods, there are several things you can and should incorporate into your daily diet that will actually help to reduce morning sickness symptoms:

  • Ginger is beloved for its natural ability to relieve nausea and soothe stomach aches. Try adding some to tea, water, or juice.
  • Mint is also a tummy-taming ingredient that can help alleviate morning sickness.
  • Sucking on sour candies can reduce nausea.
  • Simple starches, like crackers or bread, absorb stomach acid and alleviate queasiness.
  • Smoothies are a great solution when your appetite is low. You can still nourish your body with healthy fruits and vegetables, even if you don’t feel hungry enough to eat solids.
  • Trail mix is also a great option, as it’s satisfying (and usually packed with protein-rich ingredients, like nuts) without being too filling.
  • Red raspberry leaf tea helps to reduce inflammation and calms nausea.

All of that to say, everyone’s body is different and will react uniquely to certain foods. If you’re suffering from morning sickness, it’s important to test out how your body responds to what you eat.

For instance, some women find that hot foods can trigger morning sickness symptoms and, therefore, only consume cold foods—and vice versa. Try to be in tune with your body and remain hypervigilant to how it reacts to specific foods (and the way in which they are prepared).

Eating with morning sickness

Another thing to consider when trying to curb morning sickness is to shift your eating habits and patterns. It’s not just about what foods you consume, but also when—and how—you consume them.

As we mentioned, eating six smaller meals is suggested over consuming three large portions per day. It’s also critical to not go too long between meals, so having snacks on hand is essential for combating morning sickness. Believe it or not, despite having zero appetite, avoiding eating altogether can seriously exacerbate morning sickness.

That’s because an empty stomach is much more inclined to produce excess acid, which leads to nausea. If you’re always full, you will be less likely to experience queasiness and other morning sickness symptoms throughout the day. Plus, always remember to drink plenty of water, especially before and after meals.

If you experience nausea first thing in the morning, try eating simple dry foods (like crackers or cereal) before even getting out of bed. It’s also helpful to eat a high-protein snack before bedtime, such as cheese or nuts, in order to avoid your stomach feeling empty when you wake up.

Medications for morning sickness

If none of the aforementioned preventative measures are helping to alleviate your morning sickness symptoms, fortunately, there is no shortage of medications and treatments that can offer morning sickness relief.

Common treatment protocols for morning sickness include:

  • Vitamin B-6 supplements (pyridoxine)
  • Antihistamines to reduce motion sickness and nausea
  • Antacids to reduce stomach acid and lessen reflux
  • Metoclopramide to help with digestion and prevention of nausea and vomiting

Severe morning sickness

What is hyperemesis gravidarum?

Hyperemesis gravidarum is a rare condition during pregnancy that materializes in severe nausea. In essence, it’s an acute form of morning sickness.

Given that hyperemesis gravidarum is characterized by extreme, persistent nausea (which is often accompanied by vomiting—sometimes more than four times per day), dehydration is a common symptom, as well as dizziness and weight loss.

While the cause of hyperemesis gravidarum is not totally clear, it is usually linked to human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which is a pregnancy hormone. Hyperemesis gravidarum can be caused by rapidly rising levels of hCG and estrogen.

This form of severe morning sickness is usually diagnosed by a doctor upon considering symptoms, medical history, and a physical exam. Severe morning sickness can be treated with IV fluids and other medications to prevent vomiting, including Promethazine, Meclizine and Droperidol.

Is morning sickness bad for the baby?

In most cases, morning sickness is completely harmless, especially when mild. Although many pregnant women worry about the risks of morning sickness on the development of the fetus, in the vast majority of instances, there is nothing to be concerned about.

In fact, some doctors believe morning sickness is actually a good sign, as it indicates that the placenta is developing well. But, bear in mind, if you aren’t suffering from morning sickness, it certainly does not imply that there is something wrong in your pregnancy.

Remember, although morning sickness is very common, about 20 percent of pregnant women do not experience it at all. If you’re part of that group, consider yourself extremely lucky!

While the condition is totally harmless for the most part, in severe cases of morning sickness, nausea and vomiting can lead to weight loss, which can in turn impact the baby’s growth if left untreated. So, if you’re suffering from morning sickness, be sure to monitor your symptoms and ensure the illness isn’t impacting your weight.

Are some women more at risk for morning sickness?

Some women are more prone to morning sickness than others for a variety of reasons, including if they…

  • are overweight;
  • are pregnant with more than one baby;
  • are pregnant with a girl;
  • are a first-time mother;
  • have a history of severe morning sickness with previous children (although, this isn’t always indicative of what future pregnancies will be like);
  • are prone to motion sickness or migraines;
  • or have trophoblastic disease, an uncommon condition in which abnormal cells develop in the uterus following conception.

When to go see the doctor for morning sickness

Although morning sickness is harmless for the most part, it’s very important to take symptoms seriously if they become severe.

Contact your doctor immediately if you…

  • develop a fever;
  • experience abdominal pain;
  • find blood in your vomit;
  • produce dark-colored urine;
  • get headaches often.

If your morning sickness symptoms are severe, you may be diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum, in which case hospitalization might be necessary

In summary

For many women, pregnancy comes with a slew of challenges, and morning sickness is among the most common. Although it’s an issue that numerous women face, it is nonetheless uncomfortable to deal with and can unquestionably impact your day-to-day life.

Luckily, morning sickness can be prevented and managed with simple eating pattern changes, altered food choices, and over-the-counter medications.

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