What Causes Morning Sickness and What to Do About It

Ah, morning sickness: the first trial of motherhood! Not only is your stomach churning so much you feel like you’re about to throw up, but early pregnancy can leave you feeling sick, tired, and sleepy, along with other unpleasant physical symptoms. Sure, morning sickness is a sign that you’re pregnant, but wouldn’t it be nice to make this and other symptoms a bit more manageable? Let’s run through some easy steps you can take to take control!

What is morning sickness, and what causes it?

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Morning sickness is a physiological phenomenon of early pregnancy, and is most commonly associated with gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea and vomiting. Also, though you may not think of these symptoms as “morning sickness” per se, this period of early pregnancy can also cause a number of other unpleasant physical effects like headache, fatigue, hunger and even hypersalivation.

Although morning sickness of one kind or another affects more than half of expecting mothers, its causes are still not clear. However, many think it could be triggered by the physical changes the mother’s body is undergoing, as since it tends to occur soon after the pregnancy is established.

The culprit could be the spike in the levels of hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) that occurs with pregnancy stimulating the area postrema – that is, the part of the brain that controls vomiting. On the other hand, it could also be caused by an increase in the hormone progesterone released from the corpus luteum, which slows down gut motility.

When does morning sickness occur? How long does it last?

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Morning sickness tends to kick in in the early stages of pregnancy at around Week 5 or Week 6, then continues on some time between Weeks 12 through 16. The peak time usually falls between Week 8 and Week 11.

That said, the arrival, duration, and severity of morning sickness varies a lot between individuals. Some might not experience anything at all, while others might struggle with morning sickness all the way up to the birth. It’s hard to predict, so consider these times as more of a guideline than a definite schedule.

It’s not just nausea: Get to know the symptoms of early pregnancy

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There’s more to early pregnancy than the famous nausea and vomiting of morning sickness. We can split up these clusters of symptoms into 5 categories. You might recognize your symptom profile in one, or even a mix of these.

1. Gastrointestinal upset

You’re so nauseated you lose your appetite, and you might be vomiting as well. Also known most generally as “morning sickness”, these are probably the best-known signs of early pregnancy. In some cases, they can be so severe that the patients can’t keep down food or even water.

2. Hunger

In this case, your morning sickness symptoms kick in worst when you haven’t had enough to eat. You feel sick if you eat too much, but an empty stomach leaves you with nausea and heartburn.

3. Hypersensitivity to smells

You become more sensitive to odors, and unpleasant smells make you feel sick. This doesn’t just mean the smell of garbage cans, though – it’s not uncommon for pregnant moms to develop an aversion to smells like food, cooking vapors and natural body odors that they normally wouldn’t be bothered by.

4. Fatigue and sleepiness

You’re tired all the time, your body feels like lead, and sometimes drowsiness sweeps over you all of a sudden. Even if it doesn’t leave you feeling sick, this kind of lethargy and tiredness is a common early pregnancy sign.

5. Ptyalism (Excessive salivation)

Your saliva glands are working overtime, and you end up with way more spittle than you need. Some moms-to-be find they have too much to extra saliva to swallow it all, and have no choice but to keep spitting it out.

There are some other common systemic symptoms to watch out for, such as:

  • Headache
  • Stomachache
  • Dizziness
  • Change in food preferences: for example, if you’re not much of a sweet tooth but suddenly find yourself overcome with a burning desire to eat all the cakes.

When does morning sickness need medical treatment?

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Unfortunately, there’s no cure for garden-variety morning sickness-you’ve just got to ride it out with home remedies. However, in very severe cases, morning sickness can worsen until it becomes a condition known as hyperemesis gravidarum. This needs to be treated with hospitalization and IV fluids.

There isn’t a hard-and-fast dividing line between morning sickness and hyperemesis gravidarum: rather, it’s diagnosed when normal morning sickness symptoms cross a certain threshold of severity. If your morning sickness fits the descriptions below, see a doctor as soon as possible.

When to suspect hyperemesis gravidarum

  • You’re not able to take in any food or liquids
  • Multiple vomiting episodes per day
  • Decrease in frequency or volume of urination (signs of dehydration)
  • Weight loss of 5% or more of pre-pregnancy weight
  • Difficulty carrying out daily routines and activities

Day-long vomiting sprees are a typical feature of hyperemesis gravidarum. You might think morning sickness is nothing to go to the hospital over, but when it gets bad as this, it’s time to see a doctor right away. Untreated hyperemesis gravidarum could have serious consequences for you and your baby’s health, so don’t hesitate to get the help you need.

Are there any cures for morning sickness?

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Morning sickness and early pregnancy are inseparably linked. There’s no way to cure morning sickness entirely, but there are some concrete things you can do to help bring it under control.

However, one thing to mention before we begin: Even when morning sickness hits you hard and you have trouble getting enough nutrition, your baby is still extremely tiny at this early period. During this stage of development, they’ll be able to get by just fine on the nutritional reserves you’ve already built up, so there’s no need to worry.

The methods below can help you out when morning sickness and other early pregnancy symptoms have you feeling horrible. But most importantly – try to take it easy!

Keep food ready for when you need it

It’s common to feel sick when you have an empty stomach, so it’s important not to go too long without eating anything. It’s particularly common to feel sick when you wake up on an empty stomach in the morning – well, it is called “morning sickness,” after all! Fight back by keeping some snacks like onigiri (rice-balls), tea sandwiches or cookies on your bedside table to nibble on when you wake up.

Eat what you can, when you can, and the amount that you can

You don’t need to worry too much about having three square meals a day when you’re down with morning sickness. You’ll be fine just eating what you can, when you want to. That could mean soft foods that go down easy, like fruit jellies or pudding. Or, you might find that slightly sour foods like pickles or citrus fruits are relatively easy to eat. Experiment a little, and you’re sure to find something you can eat without too much trouble.

Find a hobby to lose yourself in

The more you think about morning sickness, the worse it seems to get! However, when you get absorbed in a great book or movie, you might be able to push it out of your mind for a little while. If you can find a fun hobby to focus on, you might be able to distract yourself enough to feel a bit better.

Keep food ready for when you’re out and about

An empty stomach can start to make you feel awful at inconvenient times – like when you’re at the office, doing housework, on the subway, or driving. For times like this, try to prepare something you can put in your mouth quickly while you’re out and about, like hard candies or chewing gum. Keeping something like this in your mouth at regular intervals can also help stop the feelings of nausea before they start.

Morning sickness is a sign of your baby developing

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Morning sickness and the other pregnancies can vary greatly from one person to another, so you might feel a bit envious of friends or acquaintances who seem to be having an easier time than you. However, even when it leaves you feeling awful, morning sickness is a sign of your body changing to support your baby’s development. Morning sickness won’t last forever, so try to keep your chin up while you ride it out!