Morning sickness: What it is, and what to do

If you suffer from morning sickness, you are not alone!

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By Allison Ingrum

Morning sickness is common, occurring in about 70% of pregnancies, according to the Cleveland Clinic. So if you are feeling nauseated early in your pregnancy, you aren’t alone.

TODAY Parents talked to healthcare professionals to understand exactly what morning sickness is all about, and how to cope with it.

What is morning sickness?

Morning sickness is typically characterized as a pregnant woman feeling nauseated each day, and possibly vomiting once or twice. The common condition can happen at any time throughout the day, despite being commonly known as “morning sickness.” It typically begins in the morning, though, due to having an empty stomach.

Cases involving daily nausea and vomiting once or twice are considered “normal.” It is usually not harmful to the fetus, although obviously vomiting daily has a serious impact on a woman’s life.

These significant disturbances are not something women have to deal with on their own, says Alison G. Cahill, vice chair of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists committee on Obstetric Practice. "We don't want our patients to suffer. We want them to tell us that they aren't feeling well so we have the chance to try and help them feel better," she tells TODAY.

What can you do for mild morning sickness?

Mild morning sickness cannot be cured, but it can be managed with behavioral modifications to one’s diet and lifestyle. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggests trying one or more of the following:

  • Take multivitamins. Dr. Cahill suggests women taking prenatal vitamins including a sufficient amount of folicacid and iron.
  • Keep snacks by the bed. Eat dry toast or crackers in the morning before getting out of bed to avoid moving on an empty stomach.
  • Drink fluids to prevent dehydration as the body needs more water during the early months of pregnancy. If you have trouble due to a bad taste in your mouth, try chewing gum or eating hard candies.
  • Avoid bothersome smells. Odors that may never have impacted you before may trigger nausea. It might help to use a fan while cooking or have someone else empty the trash.
  • Eat small frequent meals to ensure your stomach is never empty. Try frequent bites of food like nuts, fruits or crackers.
  • Adjust your diet. Try bland foods such as those of the BRATT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast and tea) which are low in fat and easy to digest. Add protein to every meal if you can. Non-meat protein sources include dairy foods (milk, ice cream, yogurt), nuts and seeds (including nut butters), and protein powders and shakes.
  • Try ginger to help settle your stomach. Ginger ale made with real ginger, ginger tea, ginger capsules, and ginger candies might do the trick.
  • Protect your teeth. Vomiting a lot can cause tooth enamel to wear away due to stomach acid. Rinse your mouth with a teaspoon of baking soda dissolved into a cup of water to neutralize the acid and protect your teeth.

When does morning sickness start?

Morning sickness usually begins before nine weeks of pregnancy. Nausea is one of the first signs of pregnancy for many women, so the symptoms may start before confirming the pregnancy.

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When does morning sickness end?

While morning sickness can last several weeks or months, for most it ends or improves by the second trimester. In a few cases, nausea and vomiting lasts throughout the entire pregnancy.

Why is some morning sickness worse than others?

Dr. Erin Higgins, MD, OB/OGN at Cleveland Clinic, says no one knows why some women have morning sickness worse than others. The following factors may increase risk of severe nausea and vomiting during pregnancy, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists:

  • Being pregnant with multiples
  • Past pregnancy with nausea and vomiting (either mild or severe)
  • Having a mother or sister with severe morning sickness
  • History of motion sickness or migraines
  • Bring pregnant with a female fetus

Unrelated medical conditions also cause nausea and vomiting during pregnancy, including an ulcer, food-related illness, thyroid disease or gallbladder disease. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says the following symptoms are a sign it may be something else:

  • Nausea and vomiting that occurs for the first time after nine weeks of pregnancy
  • Abdominal pain or tenderness
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Enlarged thyroid gland

What is hyperemesis gravidarum?

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, battled severe morning sickness, known as hyperemesis gravidarum, with all three of her pregnancies. Comedian Amy Schumer cancelled part of her tour due to it. It can happen to anyone, famous or not.

Treatment is required for those diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum, the most severe form of nausea and vomiting of pregnancy, occurring in about 3% of pregnancies, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. It is diagnosed when a woman has lost 5-10% of her weight during pregnancy and has other problems related to dehydration. Treatment is required to stop the vomiting and to restore body fluids, and sometimes a hospital stay is needed.

Noticing weight loss is one of the ways for women to know they might have hyperemesis gravidarum, according to Dr. Higgins. She says blood work will show more signs.

What’s the treatment for severe morning sickness?

If behavioral modifications do not relieve the symptoms, tell your healthcare professional, as there are medications that are safe to take during pregnancy to help control the nausea and vomiting, according to Dr. Higgins. Consult your doctor before taking any, as your healthcare team will be able to determine the best treatment plan for your personal situation.

In some severe cases and for those with hyperemesis gravidarum, it may be necessary to stay in the hospital until symptoms are under control. In some cases, this may include lab tests, an IV to receive fluids and vitamins, medication, or tube feeding.

What are other symptoms of early pregnancy?

Nausea and vomiting are not the only early signs of pregnancy. Other signs include missing a regular period, tender or swollen breasts, increased urination, and fatigue. Less obvious signs may include moodiness, bloating, mild cramping, constipation, food aversions, and nasal congestion.

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