At least half of all pregnant women will experience morning sickness to some degree, particularly during the first few months of pregnancy. For most women, morning sickness begins around week four of the pregnancy and disappears around week twelve, but for some the symptoms can endure into the second trimester, and some can experience morning sickness for the duration of the pregnancy. Morning sickness is believed to be a result of high levels of hormones, blood pressure fluctuations and changes in carbohydrate metabolism, with symptoms including nausea and vomiting, but there is no comprehensive confirmation of the cause as yet.
For most women, morning sickness is worse early in the day, but it’s not unusual for it to occur at any time during the day or night. In most cases, morning sickness doesn’t harm the woman or the unborn child. However, severe morning sickness, known as hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) can cause weight loss and dehydration and may require hospitalisation.
The myth of hysteria and morning sickness
Ongoing morning sickness can have a profound affect on pregnant women, affecting their quality of life, ability to work, socialise and sometimes care for other children in the home. Women suffering from morning sickness often report higher levels of stress, anxiety and depression, which resulted in the myth that the condition is psychosomatic, with the anxiety triggering the physical discomfort.
Although the cause of morning sickness has not yet been confirmed, it is believed to be a result of a combination of physical and metabolic factors including high levels of hormones, including oestrogen; fluctuations in blood pressure; carbohydrate metabolism and the intensive physical and chemical changes that pregnancy triggers in the body.
Women are often concerned that the action of vomiting may threaten their unborn baby. However, although vomiting may strain the abdominal muscles causing pain for the mother, it will not harm the baby. The amniotic fluid cushions the foetus, keeping it safe and unaffected by the action of vomiting. It must be noted that hyperemesis gravidarum (or prolonged vomiting) that leads to dehydration and weight loss, can deprive the child of proper nutrition, increasing the risk of a weight deficiency at birth for the baby and cause complications including an imbalance in electrolytes, extreme depression and anxiety, and excessive strain on the liver, heart, kidneys and brain.
Managing morning sickness
Although morning sickness cannot be treated with medications, there are a number of suggestions that can help mothers-to-be cope with the problem. Medications can aggravate the condition and should be avoided wherever possible, unless prescribed by a doctor who is involved in the pregnancy and is aware of the severity of the morning sickness.
Certain foods can also trigger morning sickness. Consider monitoring which foods and smells will make you nauseous and avoid them where possible. It may also be necessary to avoid preparing meals if smells affect you. The amount of food you eat can also be a factor, with an empty stomach or over-eating both being triggers for nausea and vomiting. Try to eat small meals regularly throughout the day and even through the night where possible, and keep the portions small enough that you are comfortable.
Choose high carbohydrate and high protein foods, and avoid fatty and spicy foods which can worsen symptoms of morning sickness.
Staying healthy when you can’t face food
There is no need to -eat for two when you are pregnant as your energy needs to not change for the first six months of pregnancy, and only increase slightly in the last few months. It is, however, important to eat a healthy and well-balanced diet during the pregnancy.
This can be difficult when you cannot face certain foods, but it’s possible to substitute other foods that provide a similar nutritional value.
Fruit and vegetables are essential in a pregnancy diet, but it is often difficult to include these in your meals when they trigger morning sickness. Try introducing new vegetables and fruit into your diet. Foods can taste different when you are pregnant, and you may find you are able to eat new or exotic fruits and vegetables when you can’t face the ones you normally eat. Consider preparing them with foods you can eat to help mask the taste or smell which triggers the nausea or vomiting.
Try to base your meals around carbohydrates such as pasta and rice, particularly whole grains to ensure you get sufficient fibre, and proteins such as fish, meat, eggs and pulses which are important for the baby’s development and growth.
Morning sickness is a self-limiting condition of pregnancy and should dissipate without treatment or issue, but a medical doctor should be consulted in situations where the vomiting persists or where you are feeling extreme fatigue or the condition is debilitating.