Morning sickness is the feeling of nausea, with or without vomiting, that many women experience while pregnant. This guide will walk you through using food to cope with morning sickness.
The first three months of your pregnancy, otherwise known as the first trimester, are especially important, as the cells in your baby’s body are rapidly growing and differentiating, eventually forming the skeletal system and the various organs and organ systems, such as the nervous and cardiovascular systems. Throughout your pregnancy, there are certain periods, called “critical windows,” when particular organs or tissues develop. During these periods, proper nutrition is especially important, as risk for damage to these organs or tissues is increased. During the first three months, however, you may not feel like eating much at all. In fact, you may have what is commonly known as “morning sickness.”
What is morning sickness?
Whoever coined the term “morning sickness” was clearly never pregnant, because unfortunately you can have it morning, noon, and night! Morning sickness is the feeling of nausea, with or without vomiting, that many women experience while pregnant. The specific causes of morning sickness are debated and not fully understood, although hormones, psychological factors, and slowed digestion may play a role.
Most pregnant women experience some morning sickness in the early months. In fact, a recent study found that almost 70 percent of pregnant women in the United States suffer from some form of it. Often starting between weeks four and six and peaking between weeks eight and 12, nausea and vomiting may be quite problematic for some women. A minority (about 1.2 percent) may experience a severe form of morning sickness, called hyperemesis gravidarum, when vomiting occurs every day and can lead to a loss of more than five percent of prepregnancy body weight. Kate Middleton’s battle with this type of severe morning sickness during her pregnancies in 2012 and 2014 was highly publicized. This more severe form of morning sickness may cause a woman to become nutrient deficient and dehydrated (not to mention make her feel awful), which in turn may harm the baby, causing a low birth weight or preterm delivery.
A recent study found that almost 70 percent of pregnant women suffer from some form of morning sickness. For most, symptoms of morning sickness tend to improve by week 16.
Fortunately, there is a light at the end of the tunnel: though about one in five women may continue to experience symptoms beyond the 20th week, for most, symptoms of morning sickness tend to improve by week 16. If you are experiencing morning sickness, you know how difficult it can be to constantly feel like you’re about to throw up and to not be able to function as you did just a few weeks ago. But most important, you may be concerned about your baby. Is it getting enough nutrients if you’re constantly nauseous and vomiting and having trouble eating? How can you relieve your nausea and keep food down? Fortunately, there are a few natural remedies you can try.
Four ways to use food to cope with morning sickness
- Change Up Your Eating Pattern. Try to eat several small meals (aim for about 6 per day) slowly instead of larger meals because a full stomach can trigger nausea and vomiting. Similarly, an empty stomach can make you feel sick, so try not to go too long between meals. It might even be helpful to keep a snack handy. Speaking of which, having a snack, such as a banana or crackers, even before getting out of bed may also help.
- Become a Food Detective. Try to figure out which foods you can tolerate without getting nauseous. If you find that hot foods trigger nausea, go with cold foods instead, as their smell is not as intense and may be easier to handle. Avoid greasy or fried foods, as they can both trigger nausea from the smell as well as cause it after eating, since fats are difficult to digest. Try to go for low-fat, protein-rich foods, such as eggs, lean meat, or boiled beans, and try to take in more liquids than solids. Additionally, try salty liquids, such as sports drinks with electrolytes, in small volumes (preferably half an hour before or half an hour after you eat so that you avoid having a full stomach). Choosing cold, carbonated, and slightly sour liquids may also help, so if you start feeling nauseous, try sipping on a cool, carbonated beverage, such as Ginger Ale or lemonade (it may be helpful to always keep a few cans in the fridge). Eliminating coffee, spicy and smelly, high-fat, very sweet or very sour foods and choosing more bland, low-fat, salty or dry foods, such as crackers, pretzels, or toast, instead may also help to alleviate symptoms of morning sickness.
- The Power of Ginger. Ginger is the single non-drug intervention for treating nausea and vomiting recommended by the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. It is thought to help improve symptoms by stimulating your digestive tract motility and the flow of saliva, bile, and gastric secretions. Several studies have shown that women reported reduced nausea (but, unfortunately, not vomiting) when given ginger compared to a placebo. Overall, ginger has been recognized as safe for use during pregnancy, effective in alleviating nausea, and is recommended if you’re experiencing morning sickness. No detrimental consequences to the mother or the baby have been noted with ginger use in small quantities. However, it is important to note that the maximum safe dose of ginger, as well as ginger and other herb interactions, are unknown. Thus, you should avoid consuming it in high doses or in combination with herbs and should ideally stick to ginger tea (like Natalist's soothing morning sickness tea) or other forms of ginger that provide small amounts of it.
The Good Morning Tea, made with organic ginger root, is designed to support nausea and digestive relief.
- Be Sure You are Getting Enough vitamin B6. This vitamin has been shown to be effective in alleviating the nausea associated with morning sickness and may even be as effective in treating nausea as ginger. Make sure that you get enough of the vitamin in your diet (1.9 milligrams per day), and if you’re concerned that you’re not getting the required amount, or if you want to try it as a nausea-alleviating agent, talk to your doctor about adding a vitamin B6 supplement (if you’re taking a prenatal vitamin, be sure to check the package for the vitamins included first as B6 might already be in there!).
Adapted from Dr. Avena’s Book, What to Eat When You’re Pregnant.