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Pregnancy “Pains” Series: Nausea

Continuing our “Pregnancy Pains” series, this month we tackle the biggest pain of all — nausea.  It’s been coined “morning sickness,” but it can occur at any time during the day, and for some women, it lasts throughout the day. About 75% of women will experience at least some degree of morning sickness during pregnancy. It usually dissipates after week 14, but for some women, it could last even longer.  If you are in that rare and lucky 25%, we envy you! If you’re like most of us though, read on for some simple tips that can make nausea at least a little less painful.

What causes morning sickness?

While the exact cause of morning sickness is not clear, many believe it is attributable to the increase in a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG).  The appearance of HCG is what signals a positive pregnancy test.  HCG levels continue to rise during the early weeks of pregnancy, and peak by week 12-14.  This is why nausea usually dissipates for most women after the first trimester.

How to help reduce the symptoms of morning sickness

  1. Eat every 2-3 hours — with your first bite being within 1 hour of waking up. Acid builds up in an empty stomach, which can aggravate nausea. Food can actually help to neutralize the acid and prevent a flare up of queasiness. While eating when you’re nauseous may seem counterintuitive, it is a good idea to put some light food into your system, especially after a long night’s fast. If your nausea kicks in as soon as your eyes open, keep some dry goods like crackers at your bedside, and have a few before getting up.

  2. Drink less with your meal, and more in between. Because there is a limited capacity in your stomach, drinking larger amounts with meals can actually increase the risk of acid reflux. So, try to drink less with your meal, and get in more fluids in between meals.

  3. Stick with non-aromatic and cold foods. Cold and non-smelly foods tend to be better tolerated when queasiness hits. Stay away from lots of strong spices, sauces, stews and marinades. While eggs may have been a favorite pre-pregnancy breakfast, if you’re sensitive to the smell, it may be time to swap them for unsweetened yogurt or cold overnight oats.

  4. Eat a protein-rich dinner. Eating a generous portion of nutritious proteins like chicken, turkey, salmon, tofu or yogurt at dinner can help to ensure a smoother morning. Pair your veggies and grains with at least 6 ounces of animal protein or 1 cup of dairy.

  5. Have a snack before bed. During pregnancy, it becomes harder to wait to eat, and many women find themselves eating dinner earlier than in their pre-pregnancy life. If you eat dinner at least 3 hours before bedtime, have a pre-bed snack that includes heart healthy fat or protein, like half of an avocado with lemon juice, 1 ounce of cheese, a half a cup of yogurt, or a quarter cup of pumpkin seeds.

  6. Cut out greasy, fried foods. The cravings for fries and burgers may be strong, but greasy foods can further slow digestion and lead to some GI backup and not-so-good feelings of indigestion and nausea in the morning.

  7. Wait to brush your teeth in the morning. While it may be habit to brush right away when you wake up, try to wait until after eating. Brushing with a dry mouth may trigger a gag reflex, which can then lead to some queasiness.

  8. Eat what is appealing, but make smart choices.  It’s ok if your body isn’t exactly craving (or is even turned off by) those dark, leafy green vegetables and lean proteins you know you should be eating.  Many women crave comfort foods like carbs when they are sick.  If this is the case, don’t try to fight your body.  Just make smart choices when it comes to your carbs. For example, choose whole wheat bread with peanut butter instead of a croissant, or order a small portion of brown rice instead of an entrée portion of white pasta. Also, remember that your body does not actually need any additional calories during the first trimester.  So don’t think you need to load up on these carb-heavy comfort foods to ensure you are meeting the demands for your baby too.  Your baby has no caloric demands during the first trimester, so just eat what is appropriate to make you feel satisfied.

  9. Don’t take prenatal vitamins on an empty stomach. It is best to take your needed prenatal multivitamins once you’ve eaten. Also, it is often better tolerated to take it in the evening than in the morning.

  10. Try some calming agents. Ginger tea and sour lemon candy drops are very settling for an uneasy stomach. If the nausea persists, ask your OB/GYN about starting a B6 supplement.

See other posts in our Pregnancy Pains Series: constipation, heartburn, and postpartum hair loss.