For some women, the very first sign of pregnancy is an unbearable wave of nausea and vomiting. It is estimated that about eight in ten women will experience some sort of morning sickness when there’s a bun in the oven. But what, exactly, is this common pregnancy affliction that affects so many women?
First of all, morning sickness is called so because most women find that symptoms usually peak early in the morning. But as those who have been there will tell you, it’s not an event that happens exclusively in the mornings. And while it is a commonplace phenomenon, it’s something that’s not yet too well understood.
It’s hard to pinpoint, for instance, its exact cause. Scientists do have a few ideas as to the likely culprits. However, it’s most likely that morning sickness is a result of a number of factors rather than just one. In addition, it’s unclear whether it has a specific function during pregnancy. Something as prevalent as morning sickness is likely to have some sort of evolutionary function, after all. And while, as we’ll talk about later, experts do suspect it has protective functions, there are also some obvious effects that might negate its protectiveness. But despite all the confusion that surrounds it, however, there are fortunately many ways of making sure that it doesn’t do too much damage.
As a bit of a primer to the nauseating world of early motherhood, here are some of the causes, concerns and treatments that surround this common pregnancy symptom.
15 What The Hell Is Going On
The definition of morning sickness is pretty straightforward. It is nausea and vomiting that a majority of women experience during pregnancy. For the majority, it usually begins at around week six of pregnancy and often ends during the second trimester. However, others might experience nausea and vomiting that persists for the entire pregnancy.
While the definition is pretty forthright, morning sickness does not present in every woman the same way. For some, it is a mild annoyance that pops up every once in a while. For others, however, it can be so bad that it has a significant impact on daily living. As such, each woman who experiences morning sickness will have unique concerns and might have different sort of solutions to these concerns. It is therefore best for each woman to explore her own condition and, with consultation from her doctor, look for pregnancy-safe solutions to combat its negative effects.
14 Hormonal Mess
Most experts believe that morning sickness is primarily caused by pregnancy hormones. The usual suspect is human chorionic gonadotropin or HCG, a hormone whose waxing and waning levels during early pregnancy suspiciously correlates with morning sickness symptoms. HCG is a hormone produced by the fertilized egg that tells the body that fertilization has happened and that it needs to maintain the endometrial lining for implantation. Incidentally, this is the same hormone that is detected by pregnancy tests.
But some also suspect that the rapid increase in the hormones estrogen and progesterone may also have something to do with morning sickness. HCG, among other things, triggers the continuous release of these two hormones, both of which play important roles in maintaining the pregnancy. The levels of these two hormones rise so rapidly in the first few months of pregnancy that experts believe that the jolt may cause nausea, at least until the body adjusts to the elevated hormone levels.
13 Sensitive Smells
It isn’t clear what, exactly, causes most pregnant women to have such powerful noses that can smell a clove of garlic from a mile away. It is believed that hormones also have a role to play in giving women bionic smell. But whether these hormones affect the uptake of compounds in the nose, or simply make the brain more sensitive to them is unclear. In any case, it’s certainly not a secret that offensive odors can trigger nausea and vomiting in pregnant women.
It seems that this powerful sense of smell has a protective function: to prevent the mom-to-be from eating or drinking anything that would be potentially dangerous for the baby. After all, many of the things that might be marginally safe to ingest in everyday life could pose a danger to the unborn child. In some cases, however, this protective adaptation can go overboard. After all, this may significantly limit the kinds and amounts of nutrients, some of which are essential to the developing fetus, that the mom takes in.
12 Stomach Troubles
One thing that is said to cause, or at least contribute to, morning sickness is the variety of stomach troubles that a pregnant woman might experience. For one thing, the stomach becomes slightly more sensitive during pregnancy. This is thought to be an additional protective mechanism so that the tummy can quickly detect and then expel any toxins or infectious agents that are ingested with food.
Some initial studies have found that the presence of Helicobacter pylori, the same bacterium responsible for stomach ulcers, correlates significantly to the incidence of morning sickness. It is still unclear, however, how big of a role it plays in it. To make matters worse, as the pregnancy develops, the growing uterus begins to push against the stomach. This can make stomach capacity a bit smaller, so mom can take in significantly less food before wanting to throw up. This could contribute greatly to the incidence of morning sickness beyond the second trimester.
11 Stressed Out
Stress is another factor that is thought to contribute to the incidence of morning sickness. This is due to the same mechanisms through which some people might feel nauseous and throw up during anxiety attacks. This is because elevated levels of stress hormones increase the production of stomach acids. These acids irritate the stomach lining which, stacked up with the effect of an oversensitive stomach, can trigger nausea and vomiting.
It is believed that pregnancy in itself can often become a stressor that triggers the release of stress hormones in the body. However, other factors in everyday life can also increase stress levels in the pregnant mother. These can range from the demands of work and family to preparing to and worrying about childbirth. This is why it’s best for moms-to-be to make sure that they take some time off to relax. This can do favors not only to mental well-being, but to also keep her from making too many unwanted visits to the toilet!
10 Unquenchable Thirst
One of the first concerns when it comes to morning sickness is dehydration. Dehydration is when there is a deficit of water in the body. Water is, after all, essential to practically all vital functions. And while the body has plenty of mechanisms to conserve water, there are also just as many ways that water can leave the body.
The most obvious is through urine, where it becomes a vehicle in which waste exits the body. Water is also lost through sweat, as a means of keeping the body cool during a hot day. To a lesser extent, water is also lost with every breath. Every time we exhale, a tiny amount of water vapor exits along with carbon dioxide. Frequent vomiting, obviously, does not help when the body is trying to conserve water. If vomiting causes significant dehydration, it can pose a danger to both the mother and the unborn child.
9 Proper Nutrition
Creating a brand-new human being in the womb is a nutrient-intensive process. The growing fetus will need the macronutrients protein, carbohydrates and fats as building blocks for the body. But the key to a fetal development is primarily in the micronutrients. Most will recognize folic acid, the quintessential pregnancy vitamin, which is essential in the development of the nervous and the cardiovascular systems. But the truth is that during pregnancy, a full range of vitamins and minerals are needed to build the different parts of the baby’s body.
Most of these vitamins and minerals are actually readily available in the average woman’s diet. This is why in most cases, supplementation is actually not needed and is simply a sort-of insurance just in case the mom falls short of taking in specific vitamins at critical periods in fetal development. However, if morning sickness results in a deficiency in one or more of these essential nutrients, there is an increased risk for pregnancy problems as well as birth defects.
8 Teeth Troubles
Teeth troubles are a seldom-discussed problem among women with morning sickness. This is because it is not an obvious problem that causes immediate concern, but the damage can unwittingly stack up over time. This is because the stomach acid that frequently comes up along with vomit can slowly erode tooth enamel. Enamel is basically the thick, hard outer layer of the teeth, which serves as the hard surface that chews food and also protects the more sensitive layers underneath.
Frequent vomiting can leave the mom-to-be vulnerable to tooth decay. This may not result in any immediate problems, unless there has been damage to the teeth in the first place, but in the long-term this can cause quite a lot of agony. This is why it’s important that, after vomiting, the mom-to-be ought to rinse her mouth thoroughly with water. This not only gets rid of the unpleasant acid taste, it also minimizes tooth exposure to acid.
7 Small, Frequent Meals
It’s pretty much a societal norm to eat three big meals in a day. When it comes to morning sickness, however, this practice might not be helpful. Extra-sensitive stomachs, after all, might react rather violently to the sensation of fullness. This is especially if the morning sickness persists past the second trimester. Because of this, it may be best for the mom-to-be to take in five or six smaller meals throughout the day, rather than have the standard breakfast, lunch and dinner.
For stay-at-home moms, this is usually not a problem as food is typically accessible throughout the day. For the working mom, however, it may help to have multiple packed meals in smaller than meal-sized portions to help get her through the day. Despite this frequent “snacking”, it is, of course, best to ensure that these small food packets contain adequate and balanced nutrition for both mom and the little one inside her.
6 It Gets Worse
For a small percentage of women, nausea and vomiting during pregnancy escalates to a condition called hyperemesis gravidarum. This is pretty much basically morning sickness, only the intensity has been amped up exponentially. In this case, nausea and vomiting become so bad that the woman can barely keep anything in. Often, even drinking water can trigger a bout of vomiting. Because of this, the risk for dehydration, electrolyte imbalances and malnutrition increases significantly, posing a danger to both the mother and the unborn child.
Hyperemesis gravidarum, needless to say, is a serious condition that will require medical attention. Women who cannot keep anything down for more than 24 hours, experience weight loss or signs of dehydration had best see a doctor as soon as possible. Treatment for this condition include medicines to control nausea and vomiting, intravenous fluids and, if necessary, tube feeding to ensure that both mother and baby are getting adequate nutrients.
5 Bland Food
Because of the extra-sensitive pregnancy nose, it’s best to limit the diet to only food that can be tolerated. For some moms, this means a diet that is downright bland. The most obvious choices are rice, bread and other starchy foods. But pretty much everything that doesn’t have a strong smell or isn’t heavily spiced is fair game. Many women find that snacking on soda crackers can provide quick relief to nausea and vomiting. Not only are these crackers bland, they also contain small amounts of sodium bicarbonate (also known as baking soda), which can help neutralize stomach acids.
Another handy way of keeping food as bland as possible is to keep it cool. Heat, after all, increases activity at the molecular level. This causes food to release more of the volatile compounds that cause strong smells. For moms with particularly sensitive noses, this may mean that most cooking will be limited to making cold sandwiches and mixing up cereal.
Morning sickness can result in nutrients lost, as well as nutrients not taken. After all, nutrition in bland food can only go so far. It may therefore be worth taking a multivitamin to compensate for the nutritional requirements during pregnancy. Make sure, however, that the multivitamin being taken is one approved by a doctor or, at least, one that is designed specifically for pregnancy. This is because pregnancy vitamins contain the specific nutrients required for fetal development. In addition, overdosing on some vitamins, vitamin A in particular, have been associated with increased rates of birth defects.
On that note, another unintuitive part of the multivitamin regimen should be taking early morning walks. This routine not only allows the mom-to-be to have much needed exercise, which makes for easier childbirth, exposure to the morning sun also stimulates vitamin D production in the body. Vitamin D from regular sun exposure is often adequate and so taking it in pill form is no longer needed.
3 All The Hygiene
To keep all those nasty odors from triggering yet another fit of vomiting, a good dose of hygiene may be necessary. Many women find that they feel nauseous just sniffing bodily odors, including their own. Because of this, everyone in the household may want to wash up and floss more than usual. Some moms also find that even the smell of cigarette smoke, which can cling to clothes and the skin long after the deed has been done, is particularly offensive.
But morning sickness prevention hygiene isn’t limited to the human body. The environment is also full of stinky triggers that mom will not want to come close to. The fridge is a common culprit. This is because food smells often mix up and accumulate in those closed doors. It’s therefore best to stick to a regular fridge cleansing routine to ensure that it isn’t too offensive for mom. The family may also want to switch to odorless or, at least, non-offensive cleaning products in the meantime.
Certain aromas can often calm the senses and reduce nausea. Many women find that citrusy smells such as lemon and orange are effective in doing this. Mint, lavender and ginger are also popular choices. Each woman might have a different preference, however, so it’s best to experiment as to which scents are the most pleasing and provide nausea relief.
There are moms who carry around essential oils or balms to sniff on, just to help tone down the effects of nausea. However, some experts don’t advice the use of essential oils during pregnancy, especially during the first trimester. While many oils are deemed safe, most have not been tested enough for their effects on pregnancy. Instead, going full-natural may be an ideal route. The concerned mom-to-be might, for instance, want to sniff on fresh lemon zest or lavender blossoms. A cup of mint or ginger tea, depending on what works best for mom, might also help reduce morning sickness, especially when paired with soda crackers.
1 See The Doctor
In some cases, morning sickness may be so severe that regular home remedies just don’t work or are only marginally effective. If this is the case, the mom-to-be might be concerned that both she and the little one aren’t getting adequate nutrients for development. The best thing to do when this happens is to see a doctor. While there are many over-the-counter medications available for morning sickness, it is still best, after all, to get one that the doctor can vouch for as safe for the developing baby.
Typically, however, most moms are able to manage morning sickness with a combination of home treatments and medication. After all, levels of nausea and vomiting often vary day by day. What works today may not be the same thing that can relieve symptoms tomorrow. It’s therefore best to have plenty of tools in the arsenal to ensure that morning sickness, while an annoyance, does no harm to both mom and the little one.