Morning sickness

Morning sickness affects many women in the early stages of pregnancy, usually ceasing around the end of the first trimester. Despite its name, it may occur at any time of day.

Symptoms

  • Nausea, with or without vomiting, that occurs during the early stages of pregnancy.
  • Sufferer may become depressed or anxious.
  • Vomiting may cause muscular pain in the abdominal region.
  • Symptoms are most likely to occur in the morning, but can also occur at other times of the day.
  • Symptoms typically start in the first five weeks of pregnancy, and may continue until 8-15 weeks after conception, although in some cases they may persist for longer, and may even last for the entire pregnancy.
  • In approximately one-third of sufferers, symptoms are severe enough to necessitate time off work.
  • Hyperemesis gravidarum is a severe form of morning sickness that affects only 0.5-2% of women and can have severe consequences if it is not appropriately treated. Its symptoms include persistent vomiting, dehydration and weight loss, putting the baby at risk of malnourishment.

Causes

The specific cause of morning sickness has not been determined, but it is believed to be due to a combination of factors, which may include:

  • The hormonal fluctuations that take place in the early phases of pregnancy, including high oestrogen levels
  • Blood pressure changes, especially low blood pressure
  • Changes to the way the body metabolises carbohydrates (which may in turn affect blood sugar levels)

Although it is relatively common for women with morning sickness to feel anxious or have a low mood, it is a physical condition, and should not be considered ‘all in the mind’.

Lifestyle Factors

  • Mild episodes of morning sickness are not harmful to your baby, however if your symptoms are so severe that you become dehydrated or unable to tolerate and metabolise food it is important that you seek medical care in order to ensure your baby receives enough nutrients.
  • The following diet and lifestyle suggestions are recommended as supportive measures for mild, self-limiting episodes of morning sickness, and are not intended to replace medical advice.
  • Don’t take pharmaceutical medicines or natural remedies of any kind without discussing their suitability with your doctor first. Some preparations should not be used during pregnancy, and others should be avoided in the first trimester.
  • Rest until the nausea or vomiting have passed.
  • During an episode of vomiting, drink clear fluids (such as water), and avoid solid food until you are feeling better. If you cannot tolerate water, try sucking on small pieces of ice.
  • In order to replace any fluid loss it’s also advisable to drink plenty of fluids at times of the day when you are not vomiting.
  • An electrolyte replacement formula (available from your pharmacy) may help to reduce the risk of dehydration, but in severe cases, intravenous fluids may be required. Talk to your doctor for more information, or go to the emergency department of the nearest hospital if you are concerned about dehydration.
  • Once you feel up to eating (usually about six hours after vomiting has passed), start with bland foods such as toast, crackers and rice, and avoid heavy, fatty or spicy foods, as well as any other foods that you suspect will make you feel sick.
  • Stick to small meals, and eat frequently, as an empty stomach often triggers nausea. The best choices are foods that are high in carbohydrate and high in protein.
  • Some women become particularly sensitive to strong odours when they suffer from morning sickness. You may feel better if you avoid cooking or preparing food and steer clear of restaurants and other places that smell strongly of food.

Important Notes

  • Seek urgent medical advice if your morning sickness is severe or prolonged, or if you are concerned for the health of your baby.

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