What Causes Morning Sickness & How To Minimize It
Morning sickness occurs in 50%-70% of all pregnancies, usually between weeks six through sixteen. Sometimes nausea and/or vomiting can return at the end of pregnancy, or it can last the entire time, it’s different for every woman.
Hyperemesis Gravidarum is an extreme case of nausea and vomiting that leads to dangerous levels of dehydration and threatens the health of the fetus and the mother. Warning signs include scanty urination and testing positive for urinary ketones. Medical attention and/or hospitalization is immediately required. If you think you may be experiencing excessive vomiting, contact your doctor.
Why does morning sickness happen?
Western medicine doesn’t know exactly why morning sickness occurs, but there are several theories that make sense. One theory is that it’s your body’s attempt to protect you and your baby from potentially harmful bacteria in food. Any food that’s even slightly “off” will turn the mother’s stomach, either preventing her from eating it, or ejecting it out of her body as soon as possible if she does.
Another theory is that nausea and vomiting are simply side effects from increased hormone levels surging through the body during pregnancy. For example, estrogen levels during pregnancy are equal to 150 years of normal menstruation or taking 100 birth control pills per day! That would make anyone nauseous.
Western medicine surmises that morning sickness could be a result of certain vitamin and mineral deficiencies such as B6, magnesium, potassium, and zinc. These deficiencies can trigger nausea and vomiting, leading to more vitamin and mineral deficiency, perpetuating the vicious cycle. This is a strong case for taking your prenatal vitamins before you become pregnant to prevent the vicious cycle from beginning.
Fatigue and high stress levels prior to becoming pregnant and/or during pregnancy is another possible cause of morning sickness. I can personally attest to the validity of this theory, and I see it demonstrated in my patients as well. I experienced no morning sickness during my first pregnancy when my stress levels were relatively low. During my second pregnancy, however, as I was taking care of my eighteen-month-old, breastfeeding, and working, I did indeed experience morning sickness.
As the increase of certain pregnancy hormones serve to relax muscles in the body to prepare for childbirth, intestinal activity slows down, too. This can lead to an accumulation of stomach acids, indigestion, heartburn, and constipation, all of which are potential triggers for nausea and vomiting. Low blood sugar and dehydration are also possible causes of morning sickness.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), on the other hand, has a clear explanation for morning sickness. According to TCM, there is an invisible channel of Qi (energy), and Blood called the Chong Mai that is responsible for menstruation as it fills up with blood and empties every month. During pregnancy, this usual blood flow is interrupted as the blood gets redirected to nourishing the fetus. The Chong Mai also passes through the stomach, and this disruption of blood flow causes what is known as rebellious Stomach Qi, i.e. nausea and vomiting.
11 Tips to minimize morning sickness
The following tips can help to minimize morning sickness during pregnancy.
- Eat small snacks regularly
- Eat a carb-based snack first thing in the morning
- Eat a protein based snack before bed and in the middle of the night
- Move slowly
- Get lots of rest
- Engage in mild exercise
- Get massages
- Try Acupunture
- Foods like pineapple or papaya may ease heartburn
- Eat easily digestible foods
- Avoid sugary foods
- Add ginger to your food or drinks
Scroll down to read more about each tip…
- Eat small, frequent snacks and meals often. Be willing to completely abandon how you used to eat before pregnancy. While I was pregnant, I used to have first breakfast, second breakfast, first lunch, second lunch, first dinner, second dinner, and snacks in between.
- A snack when you wake. Have a healthy carbohydrate-based snack on your bedside table to eat in the morning before getting out of bed (like crackers or toast).
- A snack before bed. Eat a healthy protein-based snack before bed and in the middle of the night if you need (like yogurt or hummus)
- Do not change positions quickly. Some women have certain body positions that trigger nausea and vomiting, like lying down on their back or standing up too fast. Know what your trigger position is, and make slow, deliberate movements when getting into or out of that position.
- Rest, rest, rest. A large percentage of my pregnant patients experience stress, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting from trying to live life the way they did before they were pregnant. Listen to the wisdom of your body and rest.
- Exercise and Massages. Mild exercise or massage (passive exercise) can help detox acid and carbon dioxide build-up in the blood that may increase nausea. Getting the blood moving can also help with constipation. In Chinese medicine, we practice taking 100 steps after every meal in order to assist the digestion and detox process.
- Try Acupunture. Acupuncture or acupressure can be extremely beneficial to relieve morning sickness. Seek out an acupuncturist who has experience treating pregnant women.
- Foods high in digestive enzymes. Digestive enzymes are wonderful to treat or prevent heartburn, indigestion, and constipation, all of which can trigger nausea and vomiting. Foods that contain high digestive enzymes include pineapple, papaya and bananas.
- Eat easily digestible foods. What’s suitable for an 8-month-old baby tends to be the same food that is easy to digest and gentle on the digestive system for pregnant women, like baked veggies, cooked and raw fruits, well-cooked grains, soups and stews.
- Avoid sugary foods. Sugary foods, which can quickly elevate and quickly drop blood sugar levels, will trigger more nausea and/or vomiting.
- Ginger! Try rubbing raw ginger on the back of the tongue and/or grating a thumbnail sized piece of ginger steeped in hot water for ten minutes with honey to taste. Have no more than three cups per day.
- Prenatal vitamins are not created equally. Some are synthetic, some are food-based and some – possibly a little bit dangerous. Here are our tips for choosing the right prenatal vitamins for you and your baby.
- What should you eat when you’re eating for two? The Tot’s guide to a healthy pregnancy diet tells you everything you need to know.