Morning Sickness

Coping with morning sickness

For many women, the thrill of finding out they’re pregnant can be short-lived once the constant grip of morning sickness takes over. While nausea and vomiting during pregnancy is unpleasant, it is not usually dangerous. In fact, up to 85 percent of women experience morning sickness—more accurately referred to nausea and vomiting during pregnancy (NVP), since many women experience symptoms all day long.

Here are answers to some common questions during this queasy time.

How long does it last?
Nausea and vomiting usually begins between the fourth and ninth week of pregnancy and tends to taper off by 12-16 weeks. Although it is not common, some women continue to experience symptoms up to five months, and some throughout their entire pregnancy.

What causes morning sickness?
Researchers don’t know the exact cause of nausea during pregnancy, but the trigger is most likely secreted by the placenta. Symptoms are more severe for women with multiple pregnancies (such as twins, triplets), or those with abnormal placental growth. Women with a previous history of severe NVP, or those carrying a female fetus, are also more susceptible.

Is it harmful to mom or baby?
Most cases of nausea and vomiting during pregnancy are not harmful to the mother or fetus. It is important for women to continue to eat what they can, even small amounts every one to two hours and adding any source of protein to each snack and meal, which will help to balance blood sugar levels. Consistently missing meals day after day, however, is serious enough to bring up with a healthcare provider.

A very small proportion of women (less than two percent), will experience symptoms so severe that they may require hospitalization. The condition, called hyperemesis gravidarum, can result in significant weight loss and dehydration requiring intravenous fluids and vitamin supplementation at the hospital. (If you experience signs of dehydration such as infrequent urination—less than three times in 24 hours—seek medical attention right away.) When managed appropriately, severe morning sickness should not harm you or your baby.

Are there treatment options?
Lifestyle and dietary changes, such as getting enough rest and eating smaller amounts of food throughout the day, instead of three large meals, may help ease symptoms. Typically, there’s no hard and fast rule about which foods to avoid—but keep in mind that you should continue to aim for healthy, balanced meals when possible.

Some women find relief from acupressure wristbands, typically worn to relieve seasickness. Others have relied on ginger, in raw or supplement form, to ease nausea. (The recommended daily dose of dried ginger root powder equivalent is 1000mg. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada (SOGC) advises that dosages of up to 250mg, four times a day, appear to be safe.) Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about these alternative remedies.

In cases where morning sickness does not respond to dietary changes, doctors commonly prescribe Diclectin—a combination of vitamin B6 and an antihistamine called doxylamine. Its safety and effectiveness is recognized by Health Canada.

If you need help in managing nausea and vomiting, call the Motherisk NVP Helpline at 1-800-436-8477 for counselling.