The facts behind morning sickness

morning sickness

Dr Penelope Law, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at The Portland Hospital, unveils the facts behind morning sickness

Morning sickness can affect many women, in fact, around 70 per cent suffer from it in the first 16 weeks of pregnancy, leading to nausea and vomiting. And while this is most commonly known as ‘morning’ sickness, unfortunately symptoms can in reality affect pregnant women at any time of day. For a very unlucky few, the vomiting does not stop at 16 weeks but continues until the last trimester, and even sometimes until delivery.

Morning sickness is usually mild, however you should always mention your symptoms to your GP, midwife or obstetrician. If you are vomiting continually throughout the day and not passing much urine, you should seek help. If you are also experiencing additional symptoms such as diarrhoea or fever, you may have an infection and should see your GP.

The symptoms of morning sickness are undoubtedly unpleasant, however there are tricks which you can try to help alleviate them.

The combination of the pregnancy hormone and the acid in your stomach is what we think makes you feel like vomiting – so the sickness often improves if you can take just a sip of fluid or a teaspoon of food each hour. Plainer, starchy foods will be less likely to worsen the nausea than spicy or acidic ones and ginger tablets (but not fresh ginger or ginger-flavoured tea or biscuits) can also have an anti-sickness effect.

A good tip is to put something – rice cakes, a plain biscuit or oatcake – by the side of your bed before you go to sleep, so you can nibble on it before you even lift your head in the morning. Don’t worry if you can only face a limited range of foods, your baby will still have all the nutrients she needs to grow. Sometimes just cooking smells can be enough to make you feel dreadful – if so, delegate the cooking to others until you feel better.

Staying hydrated is also very important, and you should ensure you are sipping on water whenever you can. Peppermint and camomile teas are also helpful to sip on through the day – although milky drinks tend to make you feel worse because they take longer to digest.

With the first feelings of nausea you could also start to wear Sea-Band anti-sickness bands. These go on both wrists, covering a pressure point just above your palm which really improves the awful waves of sickness. For best effect they should stay on, even in the shower, until about 16 weeks when the majority of women will feel much better.

For most women once their baby is born and their memories of nausea and vomiting are fading, the mind has a very clever way of persuading us that actually things were not that bad, suggesting that we might even do it all again one day. But in recent years, a more serious form of morning sickness has been affecting as few as one per cent of women in pregnancy, known as hyperemesis gravidarum. Until recently it’s been fairly unknown, but hyperemesis gravidarum has been a hot topic of conversation since the Duchess of Cambridge experienced the condition with each of her pregnancies.

True – hyperemesis gravidarum is much less common than morning sickness, but the symptoms can be significantly more severe. This is when you have vomited so much that your kidney function and electrolytes in the body are disturbed. Many women worry that their baby will be affected. This is not usually the case, but on rare occasions women do need to have fluids given intravenously just to help them feel less dehydrated. This can now usually be done in hospitals during the day – allowing you to sleep at home. In the extremely rare situation that this does not improve your vomiting, you may be prescribed anti-sickness medication and even steroids to reduce your symptoms.

If you are concerned that you may be experiencing hyperemesis gravidarum, speak to a medical professional such as your midwife or GP who will assess you and refer you on for further treatment. This is particularly important if you are unable to pass urine or keep down food or fluid for 24 hours, despite trying simple remedies, such as those suggested previously.

Want more? What to expect in your first trimester