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Nausea and vomiting is considered a normal part of pregnancy as it affects up to 80% of mums-to-be in the first trimester. It can strike at any time of the day or night and varies from mild nausea to extreme symptoms requiring hospital admission.
There are lots of thing you can do to help manage your symptoms, and you’ll be glad to hear that regular morning sickness usually gets better at around 12 weeks.
Morning sickness: from mild to severe
Mild pregnancy sickness is commonly known as ‘morning sickness’ and is characterised by bouts of nausea and occasional vomiting. For a small number of women, this can extend into their pregnancy longer than others.
An even smaller number of women will experience Hyperemesis Gravidarum (referred to as HG). Scientists don’t fully understand why some mums-to-be experience mild nausea while others develop HG, but there’s evidence showing a link to genetics and hormones1.
Pregnancy sickness facts
- 70–80% of pregnant women will experience some nausea and vomiting2.
- Pregnancy sickness and Hyperemesis Gravidarum are not psychological conditions; both are physical illnesses.
- ‘Morning’ sickness can strike whenever2.
- As long as you are able to eat and drink normally, morning sickness won’t affect the health of you or your baby3.
- Even mild nausea can impact your mood, particularly when it lasts several weeks. This will be even more pronounced if you’re experiencing moderate-to-severe pregnancy sickness or HG.
When does morning sickness start?
Morning sickness usually starts during the first trimester, when you’re five or six weeks pregnant4. Often, it’s one of the first indications that you’re pregnant4.
Also called, pregnancy sickness, symptoms peak around weeks 9 to 11 and improve greatly between weeks 12 and 142. For some, pregnancy sickness can last as long as 20 weeks, and acid reflux from the second trimester onwards can also cause nausea and vomiting.
If your pregnancy sickness symptoms last beyond 12 weeks, talk to your midwife or doctor.
Are there any morning sickness cures?
Some women look to alternative therapies, like aromatherapy, acupuncture and homeopathy. There’s not a single clinical trial that shows alternative treatments shown anything more beneficial than a placebo effect.
However, they certainly won’t cause any harm. If you’re trying a physical therapy like massage or acupuncture look for a qualified practitioner who has experience of working with pregnant women. UK charity Pregnancy Sickness Support offers evidence-based self-help tips and information. Their recommendations include:
Expert advice, 24-7
Get the support you need, the moment you need it
If you feel sick, rest
While it may not be easy, especially if you have other children and/or a full-time job, it’s important that you lie or sit down when feeling sick until your nausea’s passed.
Keep a symptom diary
Look for a pattern of symptom-free times of day and then aim to eat, drink and be active during these times. For regular ‘morning sickness’ most women will find their pattern if they keep a diary. However, if you have continuous moderate to severe symptoms this won’t be possible.
Eat little and often
If you normally manage two slices of toast for breakfast, try half a slice every 15 minutes to spread it over an hour. This isn’t always practical if you’re busy, but with a bit of preparation, and a bag full of healthy snacks, it really can help.
Avoid spicy, oily and very sugary foods
These can often result in acid reflux, leading to an increase in nausea and vomiting.
We’ve created a helpful video with tips on managing morning sickness throughout your day.
Does ginger help?
If you mention you’re experiencing morning sickness someone’s bound to suggest ginger. There’s anecdotal evidence that mild-to-moderate nausea and vomiting may be helped by taking 1,000 mg of pure ginger root extract each day5.
However, in practice, many find ginger can make their symptoms worse due to its strong taste. Ginger can also increase acid reflux, leading to further discomfort. Researchers discovered over half of women with HG who tried ginger said it caused unpleasant side effects6.
Ginger-flavoured products don’t usually have enough ginger in them to have any effect, and sweet things like ginger biscuits can have high sugar content, which is best avoided while pregnant.
I think my symptoms are worse than normal. What should I do?
Talk to your doctor or midwife if you have any of the following symptoms, as they may indicate you have Hyperemesis Gravidarum (referred to as HG) and need medical attention:
- You feel very nauseous nearly all the time, and it’s stopping you from eating and/or drinking
- You lose more than five percent of your pre-pregnancy weight
- You vomit more than three times a day for more than three days
Treating Hyperemesis Gravidarum
Your doctor can prescribe one of several medicines that have been safely used for years, and are recommended by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Recent evidence has shown leaving Hyperemesis Gravidarum untreated may increase risks to your baby. It certainly causes significant suffering for mums-to-be. Only if your HG is causing you to become dehydrated will you be sent to hospital for monitoring and hydration via drip.
If you’re worried about your symptoms, call the Pregnancy Sickness Support helpline on 0247 638 2020 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for information and guidance.
Loneliness and isolation
Pregnancy sickness can take a toll on your mental health, especially if it’s severe and you find yourself housebound or even bed-bound for a few weeks. It can feel like the world’s forgotten about you.
Some women experience feelings of guilt, especially if your illness starts taking a toll on family and finance. These feelings are natural and understandable.
Try to remember that it’s not your fault if you’re sick, especially if you’re diagnosed with Hyperemesis Gravidarum: it’s a serious illness and it’s important for you and your baby that you rest as much as possible.
If you find you’re left alone while others have to go to work or school and you’re bed-bound, keep a radio close by for company. Even if you’re feeling too queasy to move or sit up a radio can help distract from negative thoughts (although news bulletins may best be avoided!). Being bed-bound is also an opportunity to discover audiobooks, too.
- Lee NM, Saha S. Nausea and vomiting of pregnancy. Gastroenterol Clin North Am. 2011;40(2):309–vii.
- Gadsby R, Barnie-Adshead A. Nausea and vomiting of pregnancy - a literature review. Pregnancy Sickness Support [Online]. 2011. Available at: https://www.pregnancysicknesssupport.org.uk/literature-review [Accessed: December 2019].
- Koren G et al. The protective effects of nausea and vomiting of pregnancy against adverse fetal outcome – a systematic review. Reprod Toxicol 2014;47:77-80.
- Mother & Baby. When does morning sickness start? [Online] Available at: https://www.motherandbaby.co.uk/pregnancy-and-birth/pregnancy/help-with-morning-sickness/when-does-morning-sickness-start [Accessed December 2019]
- Pregnancy Sickness Support. Survey of women's experience of hyperemesis gravidarum. 2013 [Online] Available at: https://www.pregnancysicknesssupport.org.uk/documents/HCPconferenceslides/womens-experience-2013-MOH.pdf [Accessed December 2019]
- Dean CR, O’Hara ME. Ginger is ineffective for hyperemesis gravidarum, and causes harm: an internet based survey of sufferers. MIDIRS Midwifery Digest 2015;25(4):449-55
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