As of the time of writing this, I’m finishing up the first trimester of my second pregnancy, and I’ve begun to feel like an expert on a very particular pregnancy-related topic – pregnancy-related nausea, aka morning sickness. I’m using the common phrase here, but I prefer to call it pregnancy-related nausea, because “morning sickness” is a serious misnomer – it can occur any time of day. My first pregnancy, I suffered pretty badly from it – my second pregnancy looked like it would be the same way, but luckily I hit upon something that helped me tremendously fairly early on.
I thought I would write the most comprehensive guide I could find to morning sickness, because I remember trying to find resources and answers when I was newly pregnant with my first child, and it would have been really nice to have everything in a single place.
Please note: the following does not constitute medical advice. I am not a doctor nor do I play one on TV. Your medical provider will be able to address the questions in your individual situation and take your concerns into account far better than an article on the internet.
What does morning sickness feel like? What are the symptoms of morning sickness?
Morning sickness is just nausea. Just like any time you’ve had the stomach flu or food poisoning – your stomach starts churning and you find yourself taking deep, slow breaths trying to keep the contents down. For me, the distinctive feature of morning sickness is how quickly it can come on. I can be perfectly fine one moment and struggling to contain it the next. I also tend to have issues when my stomach is too empty – I find myself threatening to throw up if I haven’t eaten anything, and as soon as I swallow something, I’m perfectly fine.
What causes morning sickness?
No one is entirely sure, but the popular theory is higher levels of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), the hormone produced in the early days of pregnancy [source]. Morning sickness tends to be worse in people pregnant with twins or multiples, which produces more hCG. In my personal experience, I had very high hCG levels early in my pregnancy with my daughter (so high they were immediately checking that it wasn’t multiples or an ectopic), and I was miserable with her.
What triggers morning sickness?
Everyone is going to be different, but for the most part, there is no consistent trigger. I can change my toddler’s poopy diapers and be fine, but smelling scrambled eggs cooking makes me flee the room. A lot of time, there is no distinct “trigger.” Pay attention to your body and try to notice if anything keeps coming up.
What is the best treatment/medication/remedy for morning sickness?
Oh boy, this is a big one. Every person is different, and what works for me may not work for you, but this is what I’ve found to be helpful.
Pretty much the first thing people recommend when they hear you’re dealing with morning sickness is ginger. I had ginger pills, ginger drops, ginger ale, gingersnaps – I ate so much ginger in my first pregnancy I was afraid I would start exuding it through my pores and smell like a gingerbread man. Ginger has some evidence for being effective [source]. In my experience, it didn’t help, and the smell itself made me sick.
I tried using acupressure in my first pregnancy in the form of SeaBands – and while they helped somewhat, I think it was mostly because they annoyed me so much they distracted me from the fact I wanted to throw up. If you want to give it a try, it’s fairly easy to attempt yourself [source]. I found it was a very short-lived relief.
Scientists believe that B6 helps process certain amino acids in our bodies, which helps with nausea [source]. It has been noted that women suffering from severe morning sickness tend to have a lower level of B6. In my first pregnancy, taking a B6 supplement daily helped me significantly, and if I missed it even one day, I felt significantly worse the next day.
Magnesium is shown to potentially help with preventing preeclampsia in pregnancy, since it helps regulate blood pressure [source]. But, it also seems to help with morning sickness. I can’t find an actual study demonstrating the use of magnesium or connecting a magnesium deficiency with morning sickness, but I can give my personal testimony to this – my first pregnancy was difficult, and my second pregnancy looked to be going the same way, until I started taking the calcium/magnesium/zinc supplement I normally took anyway. I’d been off it for a few weeks, since there was a shortage of anything containing zinc in spring 2020 and I hadn’t been able to buy a new bottle. When I went back on, my nausea immediately underwent a drastic improvement. Within a day I felt about 80% better. I still dealt with food aversions, but the constant nausea went away. This is something that’s likely worth a shot.
Doxylamine is better known by the brand name Unisom. It’s a sleep aid, but it’s been shown to help some women with morning sickness [source]. The problem with it, of course, is that it makes you sleepy. The combination of doxylamine and B6 is known by the brand name Diclegis, which is often prescribed by OB/GYNs to women struggling with nausea. Of course, if you don’t want to be taking something that makes you sleepy, this might not be a good option. Doxylamine is also an antihistamine…
Not as well known, but there has been evidence that antihistamines help improve morning sickness [source]. This is another one I can anecdotally attest to – during my first pregnancy, I didn’t take my antihistamines on a couple different occasions, and I had significantly worse nausea the next day.
Ondansetron, better known by the brand name Zofran, is an anti-nausea medication available by prescription. It doesn’t appear to have any effects on the development of the baby and is generally regarded as safe for pregnant women [source]. It isn’t effective for everyone (it only helped me for half an hour at most when I tried it). There are some people who swear by it though, and it might be worth talking to your doctor.
Can you have morning sickness at night?
You can have morning sickness at any time of day – that’s why I prefer calling it “pregnancy-related nausea” because “morning” is a lie. It doesn’t tend to be something that wakes you up, although as soon as you wake up for the day it can start to strike.
Does morning sickness happen every day?
It can – it can also happen intermittently. It’s totally normal for it to go away around the end of the first trimester or in the first month of the second trimester. For some, it doesn’t go away throughout the pregnancy. There are no hard-and-fast rules.
How soon in your pregnancy can you get morning sickness?
Immediately. You can literally get it before you even know you’re pregnant. In fact, I learned I was pregnant the first time because I went to Urgent Care after two days of a “stomach flu” that wasn’t going away. I had experienced implantation bleeding the day before it started. It was that quick for me.
My second pregnancy, I took a pregnancy test largely because I kept having intermittent bouts of nausea. Looking back, I realize that started at the end of week 3 – so again, only a few days after the embryo had implanted.
What if I stop having morning sickness? What if I never have morning sickness?
While it’s hard to really judge, approximately 70-80% of pregnant women are thought to suffer from morning sickness. If you don’t get it, count yourself lucky!
If you do have it and it goes away, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It may be you’re having a couple really good days, or it’s just eased up. Unless it’s paired with severe cramping or bleeding, I wouldn’t start panicking.
When does morning sickness end?
For most women, morning sickness ends around the end of the first trimester (approximately weeks 13-14). It may go a few weeks longer or end slightly sooner. As I mentioned above, it’s believed to be connected to hCG levels, which drop off naturally around then.
What are the best foods for morning sickness?
This is another one of those things that’s going to vary for each individual. Most people find that crackers tend to be a pretty reliable snack. My first time around, I found high-protein worked well for me, along with fruit and baby carrots. The second time around, I wanted fruit and tortilla chips. If something sounds good to you, have some. You don’t need to have a lot – so if you find yourself really wanting ice cream, have a couple spoonfuls. Eat what sounds good, because when you’re struggling with nausea, that doesn’t necessarily include a lot of stuff.
What are the worst foods for morning sickness?
I’m not going to tell you to completely avoid anything – but keep in mind, acidic foods (think tomato sauce), spicy foods, or anything really strong may trigger it. The really important thing – if you’ve been doing a lot of vomiting, consider how a food may feel coming up. I still shudder when I think about the time I threw up chicken and rice soup.
What about food aversions and morning sickness?
You may end up having food aversions. In my first pregnancy, it was pork grease. Sausage, bacon, pepperoni – they all made me so sick. In my second pregnancy, the texture of meat was an issue – especially chicken. If you’re having a food aversion, it’s okay to skip that food. Don’t force yourself to eat it. That will trigger you. Look for alternate sources to the main nutrient if you can. If you can’t handle red meat, try to up your intake of dark, leafy greens (green smoothies are a great way of doing this!).
Word of warning – food aversions often come back in the third trimester. I vividly remember a day when I went out for breakfast with my husband in my first pregnancy, and he had me try a bite of his bacon. I’m not going to be graphic, but it didn’t end well and while the restaurant staff was super understanding, I still haven’t gone back there.
Does drinking water help with morning sickness?
Like with most nausea, water can help, and the important thing is to stay hydrated. Really cold water might not be friendly to your upset stomach, so let yourself have more tepid water if you’re really struggling. Take small sips.
How do I know if I have hyperemesis gravidarum?
Hyperemesis gravidarum, or HG, is a huge health issue. If you just can’t keep anything down, including water, and it’s been longer than 24 hours, contact your doctor or go to the local emergency room – you may need an IV to stay hydrated [source]. If you suspect you may have HG, you need to be talking with your OB/GYN. There are a number of potential treatments but they should be done under the supervision of your doctor.
If you’re pregnant and suffering from morning sickness – I feel ya. It’s miserable, and it’s hard to consider that this is possibly going to last for weeks, or even the rest of your pregnancy. Take things easy on yourself, and try not to push your limits.
You can do this! Remember, in terms of your life this is a very short period. This will pass.