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What is Morning Sickness & When Does it Start?

9 min read | 22 January 2023

Morning sickness is one of pregnancy’s earliest and often most terrible symptoms. For some women, it can be the tell-tale sign for them to take a pregnancy test.

Unfortunately, morning sickness is very common, with at least 70% of women experiencing it during their pregnancy. It can begin as early as 5-6 weeks in your pregnancy and can last until the second trimester, often ending between 14-16 weeks. In some rarer cases, morning sickness and or nausea can become so severe that it can last far into pregnancy up to or past 20 weeks. This is known as a condition as hyperemesis gravidarum (HG). This condition is the most severe and debilitating form of ‘morning sickness’.

What is morning sickness?

Usually presenting itself in the first trimester, morning sickness is the feeling of nausea, sometimes accompanied by vomiting. It can be incredibly debilitating for new mums as it makes it difficult to complete day-to-day tasks with ease.

Additionally, if the pregnancy is not yet announced, morning sickness can make hiding your pregnancy a bit more of a challenging task. Morning sickness can affect anyone who's pregnant, but it may be more likely if you’ve had nausea or vomiting from motion sickness, migraines, and certain smells or tastes. Mothers who are pregnant with twins or multiples are at a higher risk of developing morning sickness.

Why does it occur?

The cause of morning sickness is not totally known. It may be caused by the rise in pregnancy hormones, such as human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG) or estrogen or low blood sugar.

Some scientists believe that morning sickness may be the body's special way of protecting a baby in early pregnancy from toxins and potentially dangerous foods. This theory makes somewhat sense because the first trimester is a crucial period of development when all of the baby's organs and physical structures form. Genetics may also play a part, as two genes involved in the development of the placenta (GDF15 and IGFBP7) have been linked to HG, the most severe form of morning sickness.

Is it only in the morning?

Unfortunately, morning sickness does not particularly live up to its name. Although some believe that it is more prevalent in the mornings as the pregnancy hormones HCG and oestrogen can be higher in the hours of the AM - thus causing nausea and or vomiting. For many women, morning sickness actually lasts all day. But as always, every woman, and every pregnancy is different. Sometimes women feel okay during the day and have morning sickness at night.

What are some common symptoms?

As you can imagine, morning sickness’ most common symptoms are nausea and vomiting. Other symptoms include excess salivation, loss of appetite and dry retching. Morning sickness can be quite debilitating and in some cases cause psychological effects such as depression and anxiety. It can be triggered by certain odours, spicy foods, heat, and often, no triggers at all.

When should you visit a doctor?

Go with your gut instinct. If morning sickness is affecting your quality of life, you may need to see a doctor. Always seek medical advice if your morning sickness is so severe that you can't keep anything down, including water, food, prenatal vitamins, or medications.

If you have lost a lot of weight quickly, or if you are showing signs of dehydration - like dizziness, concentrated dark-coloured urine, or urinary infrequency. If severe nausea and vomiting continue after the first trimester, chat to your healthcare professional about HG.

Are there any risks with morning sickness?

The condition is common and, unless very severe, does not pose a threat to a mum or growing baby. Unfortunately, it can make life miserable and become a problem if you can't keep food or fluids down and begin to lose weight. Vomiting and retching may strain the abdominal muscles and cause localised aching and soreness, but the physical mechanics of vomiting won’t harm the baby. Generally, baby is perfectly cushioned inside its sac of amniotic fluid inside the uterus.

Can morning sickness be prevented?

There is no proven way to prevent morning sickness, sometimes it’s just luck of the draw. There are ways to lessen the symptoms of morning sickness like avoiding triggers such as strong smells, and certain foods that may be spicy or high in sugar or fat. Some other tips include:

  • Eating small meals frequently, as an empty stomach can make nausea worse.

  • Drink as much as you can manage. Sips are generally recommended! Some mamas swear by flat lemonade, ginger ale, lemon water or try sucking on ice cubes.

  • Get outdoors and breathe fresh air. Open the windows in your home or workplace and take a daily walk outdoors if you're up for it.

  • Take your prenatal vitamins at night or with a snack.

How do you treat morning sickness?

Morning sickness can be treated with a range of natural remedies as well as a number of pharmacological treatment options. Always make sure you consult a healthcare professional regarding what is safe to take during pregnancy if you are unsure. Alternative medicines and natural remedies are usually what are recommended first!

  • Acupressure:

    Acupressure wristbands are available without a prescription in most pharmacies. It is soft cotton wristband that when you put it on, a plastic button pushes against an acupressure point on the underside of your wrist. These are usually used to prevent seasickness, but some mothers find these helpful.

  • Acupuncture:

    Some women find this very helpful. A trained practitioner inserts hair-thin needles into your skin on points that may help with morning sickness.

  • Ginger:

    Herbal ginger supplements seem to alleviate morning sickness symptoms. Can be taken as supplementation or drunk in teas

  • Aromatherapy:

    Essential oils like citrus and peppermint have been found to be helpful for some mothers. Aromatherapy can be used in an oil diffuser or a few drops of essential oil be carried on a piece of cloth and inhaled when nausea hits. It is important to only use specific essential oils in aromatherapy- steer clear away from Clary Sage as properties of this oil may induce contractions or labour. Always consult your healthcare provider before using aromatherapy.

If your morning sickness is severe, medications both over-the-counter and prescription can be used in treating the condition and preventing nausea and vomiting. With guidance from your doctor, medication such as vitamin B-6 supplements (pyridoxine), Doxylamine (Unisom) and Promethazine (Phenergan) are commonly prescribed. Medications known as ‘anti-emetics’ are used to prevent nausea, ones that your doctor may recommend with care are Metaclopromide (maxalon), or Ondansatron (Zofran).

This blog is written by Aliza Carr, a registered midwife from Bumpnbub. All advice is general advice only and should not replace the need for medical advice from your healthcare provider.

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