What Is Morning Sickness?
Morning sickness is a common symptom of pregnancy and is marked by nausea and occasional vomiting. Despite the name, morning sickness can cause discomfort at any time of the day.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), most pregnant women experience nausea, but one-third also experience vomiting (NIH, 2011). Morning sickness usually happens within the first four months of pregnancy and is often the first sign that a woman is pregnant.
There are various ways to alleviate morning sickness, and complications are rare.
Causes of Morning Sickness
There is no one cause of morning sickness during pregnancy, and severity varies among women. Increased hormone levels during the first few weeks of pregnancy are among the most common causes. Reduced blood sugar is another common cause of morning sickness.
Other factors can exacerbate morning sickness. These include:
- having twins or triplets
- excessive fatigue
- emotional stress
- frequent traveling
Morning sickness can vary between pregnancies. While you may have had severe morning sickness during one pregnancy, in future pregnancies it may be very mild.
Risks of Morning Sickness
Nausea and vomiting can easily cause a loss of appetite. Many pregnant women worry that this will harm their babies. Mild morning sickness is generally not harmful. However, women who experience morning sickness well beyond the first three to four months of their pregnancies should speak with their doctors. Also, seek help if you aren’t gaining any weight during pregnancy.
Treatment for Morning Sickness
A few remedies may help relieve morning sickness include:
- vitamin B-6 supplements
- prenatal vitamins
- ginger products (ginger ale, ginger tea, and ginger drops)
- saltine crackers
- acupuncture treatments
While some of these treatments may help, it is important that you never take any medications or supplements without consulting with your doctor first. Also, seek medical guidance before trying alternative remedies such as acupuncture.
Preventing Morning Sickness
Unfortunately, there are very few treatments for morning sickness. Your doctor may suggest you take a vitamin B-6 supplement, antihistamine, or anti-nausea medication. However, always talk to your doctor before taking any type of vitamin, herb, or medicine. Certain substances, even those listed, may harm your baby.
Taking the following steps can help prevent or minimize nausea:
- Drink plenty of water.
- Drink water before or after meals.
- Take naps.
- Ventilate your home and workspace to eliminate nauseating scents.
- Avoid spicy foods.
- Eat small meals.
- Avoid fatty foods.
- Take vitamins at night.
- Avoid cigarette smoke.
Possible Complications of Morning Sickness
Morning sickness is usually not severe enough to hinder fetal growth and development. However, some pregnant women experience severe vomiting and weight loss because of the nausea. Also called hyperemesis gravidarum, this condition causes electrolyte imbalances and unintentional weight loss. If left untreated, this condition may eventually harm your baby.
Call your doctor immediately if you experience:
- an inability to keep food down
- weight loss of 2 pounds or more
- severe nausea within the second trimester
- blood in your vomit
- frequent headaches
- abdominal pain
- spotting (bleeding)
Severe bouts of morning sickness generally require hospitalization. Hyperemesis gravidarum often requires intravenous (IV) fluids. In addition, your doctor may also prescribe certain supplements or medications to alleviate nausea and to help you retain foods and fluids. These include:
- antihistamines: to help with nausea and motion sickness
- vitamin B-6 (in pill or intravenous form): to help with nausea
- phenothiazine: commonly used in mental disorders, but can be helpful in calming severe nausea and vomiting
- metoclopramide (Reglan): to help the stomach move food into the intestines. This drug can also help with nausea and vomiting.
- antacids: to absorb stomach acid and to prevent acid reflux
Do not take these medications on your own without first talking with your doctor. Certain medications, supplements, or herbs may cause harm to your developing baby.
Additional Tests for Morning Sickness
Based on your symptoms, your doctor may order additional tests to make sure that you and your baby are safe.
Urine tests can determine whether you are dehydrated or have preeclampsia (high blood pressure and excess protein in the urine). Preeclampsia, sometimes caused by an insufficient diet, can be dangerous to both you and your baby if left untreated.
Blood Chemistry Tests
Blood chemistry tests (especially a complete blood count—CBC—and comprehensive metabolic panel) can determine whether you are dehydrated, malnourished (deficient in certain vitamins), or anemic. A comprehensive metabolic panel (chem-20) can measure the electrolytes in your blood.
Ultrasound uses sound waves to produce an image of your baby. The doctor then uses these images and sounds to check that your baby is developing at a healthy rate.