What Is Morning Sickness?

By:    Published: October 23, 2012

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There is no doubt that one of the most well-known, and dreaded, symptoms during early pregnancy is morning sickness. While most people assume that morning sickness is feeling nauseous in the morning, they may be surprised to discover that it is defined much more broadly than they originally thought.

What Is Morning Sickness?

Morning sickness is characterized by nausea and vomiting that begins around the sixth week of pregnancy and ends within the first trimester. Nausea and vomiting from morning sickness are often accompanied by a headache and fatigue. While statistics vary, it is estimated that between 50 to 90 percent of all pregnant women will experience morning sickness during their pregnancy. This doesn't mean that everyone will spend weeks on end vomiting, since only about 30 percent of women actually vomit, it just means that most women will experience morning sickness to some degree during their pregnancy.

The name "morning sickness" is a bit misleading. While it does often occur in the morning, it can also occur throughout the day. Some women find that they feel sick in the morning and the nausea subsides midday only to return in the evening in time for dinner. Others find that they are fine early in the morning, but start to feel queasy around lunch time. Some women may only feel sick one or two days during the week. Morning sickness doesn't always take on a specific pattern of timing or occur on schedule.

What Causes Morning Sickness?

The exact mechanism behind morning sickness has had researchers baffled for years. Most theorize that it has something to do with the elevated levels of hormones in the body and the mechanism for the production of those hormones.

In the first trimester, the hormones are produced solely by the mother's body in large quantities, as this is when the placenta is forming as is the baby. Once the placenta is formed, it takes over the life support as the baby matures until it is born.

There is also some thought that the central nervous system plays a role, though it is unclear as to how. Other health problems, such as liver problems or endocrine problems can contribute to morning sickness, making it worse, though this is rare.

Tips For Coping

Morning sickness usually lasts for a short period of time, but it can be quite bothersome. Here are some tips to help sick moms-to-be cope.

  • Eat regularly. It may seem odd, after all who wants to eat when they are sick, but eating small frequent meals, or grazing all day can help keep the nausea at bay. Letting the stomach become empty can trigger the nausea as can feeling too full, so keep snacks and meals light, healthy and frequent.
  • Get plenty of fluid. Drinking plenty of fluids is important throughout pregnancy, but especially if a woman has been vomiting. This can help keep her from becoming dehydrated. But she should be mindful of what she is drinking. Stay away from caffeine, which can make morning sickness worse and empty calories that are often found in sports drinks and sodas (see: Caffeine During Pregnancy). The exception to this rule is heavy vomiting. If all she is able to keep down is ginger ale or sports drinks then the extra calories could help keep her from losing too much weight. Some of these drinks also have extra vitamins added as well, but be sure to read the label.
  • Be sure to take a prenatal vitamin. These are a must for every pregnant woman, but they are even more important to those who are experiencing morning sickness as the diet of these women often suffers.
  • Get plenty of rest. It's harder to cope with any sickness when one is also exhausted. Getting some extra rest may help to provide a little extra relief.
  • Discuss other options with the doctor. If morning sickness becomes a problem, or begins interfering with daily life, the woman's obstetrician may be able to suggest other remedies for morning sickness.

When To Call The Doctor

Morning sickness is usually not a cause for concern, but in some cases it could be. A woman should call her doctor if she experiences any of the following;

  • Nausea and vomiting that is severe (she could have a condition called Hyperemesis gravidarum, which can cause complications in the pregnancy)
  • Nausea or vomiting that is accompanied by pain or a fever
  • Nausea or vomiting that persists into the second trimester
  • Vomiting blood (it will look similar to coffee grounds)
  • The nausea or vomiting results in weight loss
  • The nausea or vomiting is accompanied by bleeding, cramping or contractions

Morning Sickness Can Be A Good Thing?

Research from Cornell University suggests that women who experience morning sickness are at an advantage to those who don't. How could this possibly be? After all, no one wants to feel miserable for weeks. However there is information to suggest that those who experience morning sickness have healthier pregnancies with lower miscarriage risks and healthier babies than those who don't. The theory is that the nausea and vomiting keeps the mother from ingesting substances that could be harmful to the baby. While more research is needed, it does put morning sickness in a more positive light. While it is unpleasant, it's easier to endure something if it's better for the baby in the long run.

While morning sickness is certainly nothing to look forward to in pregnancy, it is nothing to be afraid of either. Morning sickness is usually not harmful to the baby or the mother unless it becomes severe. Severe morning sickness can lead to dehydration and weight loss, but this is not common. Be sure to consult your doctor on how to manage morning sickness.

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