Pregnancy is a special time in a woman’s life but comes with its share of unpleasant side effects — and morning sickness is high on the list.
About 70% of pregnant women experience the symptoms, which include nausea and vomiting. It typically starts by the ninth week of pregnancy, but episodes are hardly confined to the morning.
“Despite its name, morning sickness can happen any time of the day,” says Angelica Knickerbocker, MD, OB-GYN on the medical staff at Methodist Dallas. “However, nausea during pregnancy is worse on an empty stomach — which is why many women struggle the most when they first wake up.”
In rare cases, about 3% of the time, morning sickness can lead to hyperemesis gravidarum, a condition that causes severe dehydration and weight loss and may require hospitalization.
But even routine cases of morning sickness can disrupt an expectant mother’s quality of life and make getting things done more difficult. And while there’s no miracle cure, there are ways to reduce the symptoms.
Here are a few tips, ranging from dietary and behavioral changes to a supplement that could help:
EAT SMALL, FREQUENT MEALS
Nausea during pregnancy is bad on an empty stomach, but overeating can also trigger it. That’s why Dr. Knickerbocker recommends eating smaller meals throughout the day.
The bottom line, she says, is to “make food convenient for yourself.”
That might mean putting a granola bar on the nightstand so you can eat when you first wake up, or whenever the mood strikes. Or try packing a light lunch and carrying plenty of snacks to keep yourself satisfied throughout the day.
Listen to your body and avoid foods that trigger nausea, which for many can be spicy, greasy, and fatty meals, Dr. Knickerbocker advises.
“They are very likely to trigger nausea and vomiting,” she says.
THE BRAT DIET
Cravings and the urge to “eat for two” don’t define every pregnancy. In fact, 50% of pregnant women experience some type of food aversion, whether it’s a taste or smell that sickens them.
For those patients, Dr. Knickerbocker suggests trying the BRAT diet: BRAT stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast — just what Mom once prescribed for the flu or an upset stomach.
If these options sound too bland, pair them with something else, so long as it doesn’t nauseate you. For example, match your banana with peanut butter, or spread some butter and jelly on your toast.
Smells can trigger nausea and vomiting as easily as taste. So it’s best to surround yourself with pleasing fragrances. This may require some trial and error, but Dr. Knickerbocker says it’s worth figuring out.
“Pregnancy can cause your sense of smell to become very sensitive,” she says.
Dr. Knickerbocker recommends suffusing your home and car with “fresh” fragrances like lemon and rosemary scents to take the edge off triggering smells.
As for meals, keep in mind that the temperature of food affects how strong its aroma is. Hot foods are more potent than cold foods, so if a once mouthwatering smell now triggers nausea, try meals that are served cold instead.
If you usually do the cooking but the smells are making you lose your appetite, ask your partner or a family member to take control in the kitchen for a while.
And here’s another quick tip: Make a habit of taking walks outside to get some fresh air.
GIVE GINGER A TRY
Ginger root, an anti-inflammatory spice, is a natural remedy that helps settle nauseated stomachs. Try adding a teaspoon of ground ginger to your breakfast smoothie to help ease morning sickness.
Ginger ale can also reduce nausea. It’s also caffeine-free, so it can be consumed any time of the day.
Finally, ginger candy is a tasty way to not only curb a sweet tooth but to help settle your morning sickness. Make your own candied ginger if you’re feeling creative.
Supplements shouldn’t be your first option to beat morning sickness, but if your symptoms persist after trying the alternatives, vitamin B6 can also help reduce nausea. Just know that it doesn’t work all that well alone when taken as a tablet, liquid, or capsule.
“B6 works best when it’s paired with doxylamine,” Dr. Knickerbocker says. “Doxylamine is an over-the-counter sleep aid that should be taken right before bed.”
Taking pills while you’re feeling nauseated can be a challenge, as anyone who’s had to choke down a prenatal vitamin can attest. A couple of ways to combat this problem is to take your supplement right before bed or choose liquid prenatal vitamins instead.
Vitamin B6 can also be found naturally in fish, potatoes, poultry, chickpeas, and cereal, and has several other health benefits, most notably maintaining a healthy immune system.
If all else fails to ease your morning sickness, Dr. Knickerbocker suggests asking your doctor for other alternatives.
“If a patient’s morning sickness symptoms persist after trying out all of these tips, then we will have to try out other therapies that we would tailor specifically for that patient,” she says.
Just know that your mornings don’t have to be miserable.