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Morning sickness during pregnancy

Feeling a little queasy and needing to steer clear of certain foods you normally love? Perhaps you’ve lost your appetite and are suffering from repeated spells of nausea? Or maybe you’ve found yourself completely overcome by persistent nausea and vomiting? While there are many joys to bringing life into the world, morning sickness isn’t one of them.

Unfortunately, it’s a very common side-effect of pregnancy. In fact, it’s estimated that up to 80% of pregnant women will experience some degree of morning sickness.

Unlike the name suggests, morning sickness isn’t restricted to a bout of nausea when you first wake up. The symptoms typically peak in the morning, hence the name, but in reality, morning sickness can strike at any time of the day. Some pregnant women even feel sick at all hours of the day.

How soon does morning sickness kick in and when will it go away?

Most women who experience morning sickness find that it starts sometime in the first few weeks of their pregnancy and ends after the first trimester. For around one in five women, morning sickness continues on into the second trimester. And in rare cases, the symptoms can persist through the whole nine months.

What causes morning sickness and can I prevent it?

We don’t know exactly what causes morning sickness, so we can’t prevent it from happening. However, your body is undergoing significant physical and chemical changes during pregnancy – including changes to your hormones, blood pressure and blood sugar – and it’s likely that it’s this combination of factors that causes morning sickness.

However, there are some ways you can manage your symptoms to help you get on with your day.

Tips to manage morning sickness

  • Before you get out of bed in the morning, try to eat a few dry crackers or plain sweet biscuits with a glass of water. It may help to keep these beside your bed so they’re in easy reach.
  • You’ll quickly learn what foods and smells trigger your nausea (e.g. perfumes or fried foods) so avoid these, where possible.
  • Though the last thing you may feel like doing is eating, an empty stomach is likely to make you feel worse. To combat this, try to eat small meals regularly throughout the day (e.g. every 1–2 hours).
  • Avoid food and drinks that may upset your stomach such as fatty or spicy foods and coffee.
  • Ginger can relieve nausea and vomiting. Try eating ginger chews or lozenges and drinking ginger tea or dry ginger ale.
  • If cooking or preparing meals makes you feel ill and someone else can help you out, take them up on the offer.
  • Keep your fluids up. Drink water and anything else that is well-tolerated while nauseous (e.g. flat lemonade, diluted fruit juice, weak tea, ginger tea etc.). If you can’t stomach fluids, try sucking on ice cubes.
  • Wear loose clothes so you don’t feel constrained across your abdomen.
  • If movement aggravates your symptoms, rest whenever possible.
  • Try acupuncture wristbands. These are usually used to prevent travel sickness and can be found in most pharmacies.
  • Consider taking a vitamin B6 supplement. I recommend taking either Blackmore’s Morning Sickness (a vitamin B6 and ginger combo) or vitamin B6 (50 mg tablets), 4 times a day. Ongoing use is much more effective at suppressing nausea than sporadic use. But be aware that taking too much vitamin B6 can be harmful, so ask your doctor or pharmacist for advice if you are taking a different supplement to those mentioned here.
  • If vitamin B6 alone isn’t working, you can also take an over-the-counter antihistamine called Doxylamine (Restavit). This is a safe medication to take while you are pregnant, but it can make you feel a bit drowsy. Take 1 tablet at night and ½–1 tablet in the morning and afternoon (depending on how drowsy it makes you feel).
  • Prescription medications that can help control your nausea during pregnancy are available. I encourage my patients to contact my rooms anytime if you feel you might benefit from them. It’s important that you only take drugs that have been prescribed to you by a doctor who knows that you are pregnant.

What if my morning sickness is debilitating?

Some women suffer from severe morning sickness, which can cause them to lose weight and become dehydrated, and in turn can sometimes deprive their baby of proper nutrition. The condition is known as hyperemesis gravidarum and has been in the spotlight in recent years after Kate Middleton (aka Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge) shared that she suffered from it.

Severe morning sickness affects around 1 in 1000 pregnant women. Because the consequences of repeated vomiting, weight loss and dehydration can be serious for your baby, women are usually hospitalised to get their fluids back up (via an IV drip) and to make sure they get adequate nutrition.

You should always seek medical help if your morning sickness is causing repeated vomiting and you can’t keep any food or liquids down.

Talk to your doctor if you’re suffering from morning sickness

Moderate morning sickness will not harm your baby but you should tell your doctor if you are suffering from it. I recommend first trying the tips described above, but if these don’t work on their own, there are safe medications that can be prescribed to help you manage your symptoms.

My patients can raise their concerns with me at their next antenatal appointment or, as always, feel free to call my rooms on (03) 9418 8299 for advice between appointments or to request a script for additional medications that require a prescription.

For some women, morning sickness may trigger depression or anxiety. Speak to your GP or obstetrician if you are experiencing feelings of anxiety or depression, or find out more about support services available for pregnant women at Pregnancy Help Australia.

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