One of the first signs of pregnancy is usually morning sickness—mild nausea and vomiting.
The term "morning sickness" is actually a misnomer. That's because the nausea and vomiting of pregnancy can occur at any time of the day or night.
The condition is now usually referred to as "NVP," for "nausea and vomiting during pregnancy." NVP may last longer than the first trimester—women can suffer from symptoms for the entire nine months. A small percentage of women also suffer such severe symptoms that they become dehydrated and malnourished, and are hospitalized for treatment. This condition is called hyperemesis gravidarum.
Nobody really knows the exact reason why pregnant women suffer from morning sickness. The most commonly thought reason is the natural increase in hormones, especially human chorionic gonadotropin, or HCG. Women who are having twins or multiples have much higher levels of HCG than women who carry one baby, and they are more prone to nausea and vomiting.
A positive spin on the role of hormones
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians and the March of Dimes, morning sickness results from a sudden increase in hormone levels released during pregnancy, and nausea may continue until the body adjusts to these new levels. Among women who experience morning sickness, symptoms peak precisely when organ development is most susceptible to chemical disruption, between the first month and up to the 16th week of pregnancy. The American Pregnancy Association states that morning sickness may be a positive indicator that the placenta is developing well.
Since HCG comes from the placenta, pregnancies with symptoms of nausea and vomiting usually represent robust placental synthesis and a healthy, growing pregnancy. Women with nausea and vomiting in pregnancy may have a lower rate of miscarriage.
Hormones as culprits
Women who suffer from morning sickness should discuss it with their doctor before taking any over-the-counter (OTC) medications. If a woman has gone one-half to a full day without keeping any food or fluid down, or is losing weight, she should contact her doctor immediately.
Most important, eat what you can get down, no matter what its nutritional value.
Tips to ease morning sickness
Here are a few ways to ease nausea in pregnancy, as recommended by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG):
Avoid smells that bother you. Pregnancy hormones tend to enhance a woman's sense of smell and cause you to be sickened by certain potent odors.
Slow down. Get up slowly in the morning and sit on the side of the bed for a few minutes. Possibly eat something bland, like crackers, before arising from bed.
Eat five or six small meals each day. Try not to let your stomach get too empty or too full, and sit upright after meals.
Drink fluids often during the day. Herbal teas and cold drinks that are bubbly and sweet may help.
Freeze it! If keeping fluids down is a problem, try freezing fluids such as milk, juice, or water. The cold numbs the back of your mouth and takes away the bad taste and sensation that brings on nausea.
Get plenty of fresh air. Take a short walk or try sleeping with the window open.
Eat foods that are low fat and easy to digest. The BRATT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast, and tea) may help. This diet is easy to keep down, provides calories, liquids, and electrolytes. You can also try products that contain ginger, such as tea, cookies, and supplements.
Consider your vitamins. The iron in prenatal vitamins may also cause nausea. An adult chewable multivitamin with folic acid may help. The ACOG also recommends 10-25 mg of vitamin B6 every eight hours to help with NVP.