Morning sickness, or nausea and vomiting that occurs due to pregnancy, is one of the most common symptoms that expectant moms will experience, especially during their first trimester. In fact, between 50 and 90 percent of pregnant women who have normal pregnancies will deal with some type of nausea along the way. And despite how common it is, the cause is still not completely understood.
Luckily, morning sickness symptoms usually subside by the time the second and third trimesters roll around, but until then, you may be wondering how you’re going to handle the discomfort.
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So, is the old saying, that morning sickness means you have a healthy baby, true? We talked with OBGYN Lisa Beard, MD, to learn the answer to that question, as well as what risk factors pregnant women might face and what morning sickness means for your health.
Some factors may increase your risk
Although morning sickness is very common, the cause of the nausea is not well understood. Hormonal changes are at least partially responsible, says Dr. Beard, specifically high levels of estrogen and the pregnancy hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG).
But the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) says there are some other factors that may up your risk for severe nausea and vomiting, such as:
- Past history of morning sickness in pregnancy
- Being pregnant with more than one baby
- A mother or sister with a history of morning sickness
- Being pregnant with a female fetus
- Prior history of motion sickness or migraines
Remember that just because you are at an increased risk doesn’t necessarily mean you will experience morning sickness. Sometimes nausea and vomiting during pregnancy could be caused by completely separate medical issues, including:
- Thyroid disease
- Gallbladder disease
- Stomach ulcers
- Foodborne illnesses
Talk to your doctor if your symptoms continue to worsen or interfere with daily activities.
There is a small chance you’ll have extreme morning sickness
You’ve may have heard of hyperemesis gravidarum, or severe morning sickness, because Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, experienced it during all three of her pregnancies, but the condition extends beyond royalty.
Just about 3 percent of pregnant women will have hyperemesis gravidarum, a rare condition that usually causes a woman to lose more than 5 percent of her pre-pregnancy weight and experience dehydration.
“Hyperemesis gravidarum can impact daily function, impair a woman’s ability to work, cause anxiety and, if left untreated, cause rare complications like fetal growth restriction, malnutrition and esophageal tears, among other things,” says Beard.
If you’re vomiting three or more times per day, experiencing dizziness and/or dehydration symptoms such as dark urine, constipation or weight loss, your doctor may order blood and urine tests to help with the diagnosis. In some cases, an ultrasound is suggested to check for multiples.
The good news? There are successful treatment options for hyperemesis gravidarum. Intravenous fluids (IVs) can keep you hydrated, anti-nausea medications can help relieve some of the vomiting and – for women with very severe cases – nutrients through IVs may be administered.
Morning sickness may increase the risk of other health conditions
Usually, morning sickness is no cause for concern – most morning sickness is natural and shouldn’t affect your health or your baby’s. But extreme morning sickness – especially if have trouble eating or drinking fluids – can affect your weight and subsequently your baby’s weight at birth. Untreated morning sickness or extreme morning sickness can cause thyroid, liver and fluid balance issues, and very rarely, bleeding in the esophagus if there is constant vomiting.
If you’re concerned about the severity or length of your symptoms, call your OBGYN, especially if you’re unable to keep fluids down, feel dizzy or lightheaded, notice blood when you vomit, have abdominal pain or notice you’ve lost over five pounds.
There are treatments that actually work
Nausea and vomiting during pregnancy can be treated in a number of ways, says Beard. She suggests avoiding triggers that make you feel bad, such as certain foods, smells, bright lights and car rides, to minimize symptoms. Staying hydrated is also very important; it’s recommended that pregnant women drink 8 to 12 glasses of water per day, although you should talk to your doctor about the amount that’s right for you.
Eating small, more frequent meals and sticking to bland foods like rice, crackers, potatoes or toast might help prevent some of the nausea, too. You can also try the “BRATT” diet, which includes bananas, rice, applesauce, toast and tea. Supplements, candies and sodas made with real ginger have long been used for lessening the symptoms of morning sickness, too.
Your OBGYN may suggest that you try over-the-counter treatments, like Vitamin B6 or doxylamine (one or both), to help reduce nausea and vomiting. Some physicians might recommend you wear a pressure-point wrist band throughout the day, since some believe putting continuous pressure on the wrists can ease nausea.
If these options are not effective, safe antiemetic medications may be prescribed to reduce vomiting. Women who have extreme morning sickness or hyperemesis gravidarum may need to spend some time in the hospital, so doctors can evaluate how well their liver is functioning and monitor any extreme weight loss or nutritional deficiencies.
Anytime you’re worried about symptoms during pregnancy, call your OBGYN. No matter how minor the symptom is, it’s better to have a discussion with a physician, in case treatment is needed.