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Harvard Commentaries
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Food for Thought Food for Thought
 

Are You Sick of Morning Sickness?


February 05, 2014

By Jocelyn Fry, B.S.
Brigham & Women's Hospital

Being pregnant can be one of the best experiences of a woman's life. The thrill of bringing a new life into the world and having that pregnancy "glow" are what most women wish for. However, the truth is that the joys of pregnancy are often accompanied by two dreaded words: morning sickness. In fact, morning sickness can affect 50%-90% of pregnant women. 

Morning sickness is the term used for nausea and vomiting associated with pregnancy. In most cases, the symptoms of morning sickness start around the 5th or 6th week of pregnancy. They are worst around the 9th week, and start to go away around the 16th week. 

The severity of morning sickness can vary widely from woman to woman. Some may only experience mild nausea while others have severe nausea and vomiting, lasting all day long. Morning sickness can be so severe that a woman loses 5% of her pre-pregnancy body weight. This is known as hyperemesis gravidarum. 

The exact cause of nausea and vomiting related to pregnancy is unknown. However, it is thought that the hormonal changes in pregnancy as well as the slowed emptying of stomach contents may play a role. High levels of stress and anxiety can also contribute. 

Here are some tips and tricks that may help you manage morning sickness.

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Steer Clear of Triggers

Certain environmental factors may trigger nausea. Here are some environmental triggers and tips to avoid them:

Odors

 

  • Eat cold, solid foods that require little preparation.
  • Avoid foods with strong odors.
  • Have someone else cook for you.
  • Keep windows open or a fan on while cooking.
  • Avoid perfumes.
  • Try unscented detergents, soaps and lotions.

Noise and Touch

 

  • Avoid loud, hectic surroundings.
  • Rest and sleep in a quiet place.
  • Try sleeping alone.

Adverse Climate

 

  • Avoid hot, stuffy rooms.
  • Keep the windows open.
  • Go for a walk outside.

Motions

 

  • Avoid changing positions too quickly.
  • Avoid lying down immediately after eating.
  • Avoid visual cues that make you feel queasy.

 

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Modify Your Munchies 

Dietary changes can help you manage morning sickness. Here are some tips to keep nausea at bay: 

    • Eat 4-6 small, frequent meals a day.
    • Eat foods high in protein like low-mercury fish, chicken, nuts, peanut butter, eggs, yogurt and cheese.
    • Drink liquids 30-60 minutes before or after a eating.
    • Keep dry crackers or toast next to your bed.
    • Try eating plain, bland foods such as crackers, cereal, toast, pretzels, mashed potatoes and applesauce.
    • Suck on hard ginger candies or drink ginger tea.
    • Try sniffing a lemon or adding lemon juice to your food or water.
    • Avoid high-fat, fried and greasy foods.
    • Avoid foods that are very spicy or high in sugar like soda.
    • Try taking your prenatal vitamin before bed with a snack.

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Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate! 

If you are not eating and drinking enough, or vomiting several times a day, it can be hard to stay hydrated. You should consume 8-10 cups of fluid per day. Here are some tips to prevent dehydration: 

    • Drink ginger, peppermint or decaf tea.
    • Drink water with lemon juice.
    • Trying consuming drinks with electrolytes, such as Gatorade, Pedialyte, coconut water or broths.
    • Consume foods with a high water content, like watermelon, grapes, oranges, cucumbers, fruit ices or popsicles.
    • Avoid caffeine.

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Test Your Tastes and Textures 

Sometimes the thought of food can make you nauseous. Testing foods with different textures and tastes may help you find one food that breaks your cycle of nausea and vomiting. Here are some different tastes and textures to consider:

 

Salty

Popcorn, potato chips, pretzels, quiche, soup

Bitter/Tart/Sour

Pickles, lemonade, lemon wedges, mustard

Earthy

Mushrooms, pesto sauce, miso soup, tofu

Crunchy

Celery sticks, carrots, nuts, taco shells

Bland

Rice, vanilla pudding, oatmeal

Sweet

Candy, sherbet, ice cream, dried fruit, jelly

Fruity

Popsicles, dried fruit, fresh fruit, fruit leather

Dry

Bread, toast, crackers, cereal, cookies

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The Bottom Line

When you have morning sickness, the most important thing is to stay hydrated. Getting enough calories and protein is also important. To do this, avoid environmental triggers; try foods with different tastes and textures; and eat small, frequent meals (to avoid overeating and eating on an empty stomach). Talking to your doctor about medications may also aid in managing morning sickness.   

Jocelyn Fry, B.S. is a Dietetic Intern at Brigham and Women's Hospital who completed her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.

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