What is morning sickness?

The exciting news of a pregnancy is often followed by some not-so-pleasant symptoms, including morning sickness. While common in the first trimester, some women experience nausea and/or vomiting throughout their pregnancy, day or night. It usually starts around the sixth week and ends by the end of your first trimester, although every pregnancy is different.

Morning sickness, also known as nausea gravidarum and pregnancy sickness affects about 50% of pregnant women (familydoctor.org) and is thought to be caused by an increase in pregnancy hormones (such as oestrogen, progesterone and hCG) and lower blood sugar levels to feed the placenta, as well as a sensitivity to smells during pregnancy. However, you may be at an increased risk if you’ve experienced it in previous pregnancies, you are carrying twins or multiples, or you’re prone to migraines and motion sickness.

Is it severe morning sickness or hyperemesis gravidarum?

About one in 300 (medicinenet.com) women may suffer from severe persistent nausea and vomiting that can cause dehydration and malnutrition and an imbalance of electrolytes. This condition is called hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) and may result in a woman losing more than five per cent of her pre-pregnancy body weight. If you suffer from HG, you may require hospitalisation and treatment with intravenous fluids and medications and, in very severe and rare cases, a feeding tube.

How to deal with morning sickness

There is no way to prevent morning sickness, but you can manage your symptoms using various home remedies (and recommended medication in extreme situations). The American Pregnancy Association recommends eating cold foods, plain fruits and vegetables and bland foods, as well as snacks such as pretzels, jelly and flavoured ice lollies.

5 ways to lessen the symptoms of morning sickness:

  • Rest, rest and more rest. This can help with fatigue and nausea. Try not to eat before sleeping or napping as this can exacerbate nausea or indigestion.
  • Watch your diet. Limiting spicy and fatty foods and sticking to bland foods can prevent stomach irritation. Keep portion sizes small to help prevent vomiting, but be aware that an empty stomach can cause nausea. Cold food reduces the effect any smells may have on you. If you suffer from acid reflux, ask your healthcare professional to recommend a safe antacid.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. Whether it’s plain or flavoured water, keep your fluid intake high to prevent dehydration. If you don’t want to drink so much, try sucking on ice cubes. Ginger is a tried and trusted remedy to help with digestive discomfort. Drink ginger ale or ginger tea (peppermint tea also works) or snack on ginger cookies.
  • Take your vitamins. It’s best to take supplements recommended by your healthcare professional before bedtime to prevent any side effects. Taking vitamin B6 may help with nausea, but iron can cause it so talk to your doctor about the best way to take these.
  • Stay comfortable. Avoid wearing restrictive clothing as these can worsen symptoms of nausea.

Mug of ginger tea for morning sickness

Medications to treat nausea and vomiting are called antiemetics, and these are often used to treat motion sickness, infections and stomach flu. According to our sexual health expert Dr Jireh Serfontein, every gynaecologist has their list of medications that they are comfortable with when it comes to treating morning sickness. Asic is an over-the-counter tablet that is safe to use but can cause drowsiness, and safe prescription medications include Ondansetron and Zofer (Zofran).

“While there is no way to prevent morning sickness, there are things you can do and take that may help lessen your symptoms.”

Your experiences and tips

It’s always helpful to know that you are not alone, so we asked some of our community members to share their experiences and how they dealt with their morning sickness.

Simone Joy James: “I had bad morning sickness. For me, nothing helped. I just had to lay in bed and wait for it to pass. I couldn’t even drink my tea in the mornings. It is awful when you’re craving something but can’t eat it because you feel so nauseous.”

Kim Johnson-Williams: “With my first child (a boy) I had mild morning sickness for exactly three months. Black tea and crackers first thing in the morning helped. With my second child (a girl) I suffered all day for nine months and only ginger tea, ginger biscuits or ginger sweets helped.”

Pregnant woman suffering with symptoms of nausea

Bint Uthmaan: “I had extremely bad morning sickness that lasted the whole day. I would wake up from my sleep at times to throw up. I barely ate for the first three months and ended up losing weight. I realised the folic acid didn’t agree with me and once I stopped taking it, my morning sickness disappeared. Only after I had given birth, I was told it is better to take folate than folic acid.”

Samantha Buitendach: “With my current pregnancy (first child), I had quite bad morning sickness for four months and threw up a few times. At first, I only had morning sickness in the evenings, then progressed to mornings and evenings and then eventually it got to the point where it lasted all day and all night. I had a lot of dry heaving and extreme nausea. I used to have a few salty crackers before even opening my eyes in the morning, which helped a little. I lived on ice-cold Ensure shakes (the chocolate one) and ice-cold fruit. I also took Asic tablets every day. I couldn’t last without them. I tried many different remedies, including ginger sweets but these only made me feel worse. Keeping my tummy lightly filled by snacking on whatever my body could tolerate at the time helped – I alternated between sweet and salty. Overall, it wasn’t the best experience but thank goodness it’s over.”

Lize Fourie: “With my first baby (a girl) I had hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) and lost 10 kilograms in two weeks. By week nine I was so weak that I couldn’t drive. I was supposed to go to the hospital to be treated for dehydration, but work was just too crazy. I took a day’s sick leave, got medication and rested. Zofer was all that helped. By week 14 it was over. With baby number two (a boy), I had nausea and vomited like clockwork every morning, and lost weight. Nothing helped, but it went away by the second trimester. With baby number three (a girl) I experienced severe nausea and vomiting bordering on HG. Asic and tissue salts helped and it passed at about 13 weeks.

Stacey Meyer: “Morning sickness hit me after I told the family at eight weeks, and it lasted until 18 weeks. I took Asic tablets and Gaviscon, and ate ginger sweets.”

Mia Vermeulen: “With my first daughter, I had morning sickness from eight weeks until 15 weeks. I threw up most days, once in the morning and then I was fine for the rest of the day. I did do the Marie biscuit thing first thing in the morning and I had quite a bland diet with plenty of bland carbs. With my second daughter, all-day sickness started at seven weeks and ended at about 19 weeks. I threw up most days, anything between one and seven times a day. I took Natura Magen drops and ate small bland meals – I lived on rice cakes and Salticrax for the first few weeks.”

While there is no way to prevent morning sickness, there are things you can do and take that may help lessen your symptoms. If you suffer from it, take heart in knowing that your symptoms will subside once your baby is born.

This article doesn’t serve as medical advice. Always speak to your healthcare professional before trying any supplement or medication.