Morning sickness is such a cliché of pregnancy that it's become the way we find out that a movie or TV character is pregnant. And that makes perfect sense, since about two-thirds of all pregnant women experience some degree of morning sickness in their first trimester. In rare cases, such as with Princess Kate's third bout of hyperemesis gravidarum, symptoms are extreme and potentially deadly.
But it turns out that morning sickness, characterized by nausea with or without vomiting and aversions to certain foods or smells, may actually be a sign that a pregnancy is going well.
Morning sickness: your body's way of protecting your baby.
There's a reason morning sickness happens at the beginning of a pregnancy, when an embryo is most vulnerable to anything that may cause the body to reject the pregnancy. Studies suggest that morning sickness is actually a primitive mechanism — an evolutionary advantage— that prevents pregnant women from eating foods or coming into contact with substances that might be contaminated or harmful.
For example, scientists found that the most common food aversions include meats, poultry, fish and eggs — dishes that tend to be the culprits of food poisoning and would have been harder to keep safely refrigerated in the past.
Because morning sickness is caused by an increase in hormones, and pregnancy hormones in particular, doctors see it as a sign that the placenta is developing well. A study published in the Journal of American Medicine found that women who suffer from morning sickness are up to 75 percent less likely to miscarry.
If you don't have morning sickness, there's no reason to worry. It's not a sign that you will miscarry or that anything is wrong. You may simply be one of the lucky women who has a higher tolerance to hormonal changes or a stronger stomach.
Hyperemesis gravidarum: extreme morning sickness.
Symptoms of hyperemesis gravidarum include severe, persistent nausea and vomiting:
- More than 3 to 4 times a day
- Enough to lose 10 pounds
- Enough to feel lightheaded and dizzy
- Enough to become dehydrated
How to find relief from morning sickness.
- Eat small, frequent meals — the trick is to never let your stomach get completely empty, as it is after a long night's sleep. An empty tummy churning with stomach acid only increases queasiness. If you need to, snack before bed, during the night and before you get up in the morning.
- Eat whatever you can keep down — even if it's the same meal over and over. Try to get some protein, complex carbs, fruits, veggies and healthy fats, if possible, but if all you can stomach is mac and cheese, go for it.
- Drink plenty of fluids — water, of course, but you can also get your H2O from 100% fruit juices, popsicles, herbal teas, coconut water, soups, smoothies, shakes and high-water-content fruits and veggies such as melons and citrus. If you're vomiting a lot, it's extremely important that you get enough fluids to avoid dehydration.
- Choose a slow-release prenatal vitamin high in B6 — to supplement your meager diet. This one-a-day can actually help ease nausea if you take it with a meal. Your iron supplement, on the other hand, may increase nausea, so ask your doctor about waiting to take it until your symptoms have subsided.
- Try ginger or lemons — you may find that just the smell helps dispel nausea, but you can also try eating and cooking with them. Think ginger snaps, ginger ale, lemonade and hard ginger or lemon candies. Just be sure to check the labels for the real thing and not just imitation flavoring.
- Ask your doctor about Sea-bands — acupressure bands that are worn on your inner wrists, have no side effects and are available at pharmacies and health food stores.
- Get plenty of rest and take things slowly — lack of sleep, stress, and rushing around can all contribute to your nausea. So slow down, try relaxing activities such as meditation or yoga and try to sleep like a baby as much as you can.
Learn about another delightful pregnancy symptom that may benefit babies. Read Pregnancy Brain: Is It Real and Will It Last?
Summer Hughes BSN, RNC-Inpatient OB, Director of Women's Services at Medical City Alliance
Summer Hughes is happily married to her wonderful husband Russell and a mother of 2 boys Dawson (17) and Gavin (7). She's been a nurse for nine years in Women's Services. In her free time, she loves scuba diving, reading, spending time with family and traveling.