By Claire Yezbak Fadden
Her hands cling to the rim as she kneels in front of the toilet. Her head bent over the bowl; beads of sweat trace her upper lip. There’s nothing left in her stomach. Even the saltine crackers betrayed her.
This isn’t the opening paragraph to the new Sue Grafton mystery. No, the culprit’s not the flu, food poisoning or one too many daiquiris. These few lines describe the starting months of each of my three pregnancies. A scene that’s is repeated by expectant women all over the world. This is how we learn first-hand the unpleasant truth about morning sickness.
Approximately 70 percent of pregnant moms experience some type of morning sickness (hyperemesis) during the first few weeks of their pregnancies. And about 10 percent get an extra-special dose that can last well into the third trimester or through the entire pregnancy. Those women are diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum, the medical term for nausea due to severe morning sickness. This can result in weight loss and dehydration and causes approximately 50,000 U.S. women to be admitted to hospitals annually.
Some say morning sickness may be nature’s way of protecting a forming fetus from anything that could be harmful to its development. That might be comforting news, but if you’re turning green at the thought of your husband asking: “What’s for dinner?” help is on the way. There are some simple steps expectant moms can take to minimize or even alleviate the discomforts of morning sickness.
When It Starts
Expectant moms usually begin to feel queasiness around the sixth week of pregnancy. The worst of it peaks around the eighth week and starts to subside after the 12th. There are a variety of theories about what causes morning sickness. Many physicians believe it takes root in the combination of changes affecting a pregnant woman’s body. Those changes include surges in estrogen levels, a heightened sense of smell, low blood sugar, excess stomach acids and, of course, exhaustion.
The good news is that medical studies have shown morning sickness is a strong indicator of a healthy pregnancy. A National Institute of Child Health and Human Development study found that women who vomited during their first trimester were less likely to miscarry or deliver prematurely.
But even a mild case can be debilitating. “If the nausea is interfering with your daily life,” says Stephen Hebert, an obstetrician and gynecologist, “if it goes beyond your ability to function normally, then you need to consider treating it.” Hebert, in practice for some 20 years at IGO Medical Group in the Golden Triangle, says that most pregnant women will experience some level of morning sickness. Moms-to-be don’t need to suffer unnecessarily, though. There are ways to lessen the affects of a queasy stomach. “Sometimes episodes are brought on if your stomach is too empty or too full,” says Hebert. “It’s best to not eat three big meals a day. Break those meals down into six smaller ones.” You benefit because you’re not triggering your stomach’s queasy reaction to food, but you’re still keeping your body (and the baby) nourished.
Getting Through the Mornings
If you’re in the throws (pardon the pun) of morning sickness, here are some additional ideas from Miriam Erick, M.S., R.D., author of Managing Morning Sickness: A Survival Guide for Pregnant Women. Erick offers some helpful solutions for smoothing that morning transition and making your first trimester
a little bit easier.
Morning Sickness Can Happen All Day Long
- Remain still until the nausea passes.
- Open windows to let in fresh air.
- Throw out fragrance soaps, cologne and other aromatic products.
- Sleep alone.
Even though most pregnant women experience morning sickness right when they wake up, it is not uncommon to feel nauseous any time of day. Erick, a high-risk maternity dietitian, says some 30 percent of women suffer later in the day. She advocated renaming the condition pregnancy sickness.
As the day wears on, expectant moms are exposed to different foods and smells that may not have been bothersome in the morning. Now those same foods and smells are sending up red flags. Also, whether working in or outside the home, fatigue from a busy day can contribute to that queasy feeling. If that’s the case:
It Worked for My Cousin
- It is best to try to take some time to rest and, if possible, squeeze in a short nap.
- Keep an informal journal of the times of day you feel sick and what was going on around you. Record odors, what you ate and where you were. That information might help to eliminate or minimize the prime contributors to your nausea.
- If you commute to and from work, see if you can rearrange your schedule to avoid being caught in morning and evening rush-hour traffic.
- Arrange for someone else in the family to prepare dinner or call for takeout.
Eating three crackers first thing in the morning worked for cousin Laura, so why isn’t it working for you? Every woman is different and so is every pregnancy. It is important to listen to your body and experiment with several strategies. Even something that works for a while may not work all the time. Here are some tricks to try to keep in mind.
Tips for the At-Work Mom-to-Be
- Avoid fried, fatty foods.
- Drink lots of clear fluids.
- Suck on hard candy.
- Drink ginger ale. Some women also have great success with tea made from Gingerroot.
- Smell or taste a fresh lemon.
- Eat more carbohydrates (plain mashed potatoes, white rice, dry toast).
- Ask your doctor about taking vitamin B6 or Unisom.
“Working environs can be the toughest place to endure in early pregnancy,” Erick says. “Even though your body is starting to change, your office mates are in the business-as-usual lane . . . which means perfume, occasional music, routine coffee breaks and probably drinks after work.”
Of course, feeling as you do, none of that sounds good. You may be reluctant to announce your good news to your co-workers until you’re further along. Morning sickness may move up the timeline for making your announcement. Because scents have such a strong affect on expectant moms, things as simple as bagels from the corner deli, lattes from the coffee shop and the perfume your boss is wearing may be enough to send you running to the ladies room.
The sooner you feel comfortable announcing your good news, the better. Then you can begin to make simple requests of your co-workers to keep the variety of overwhelming scents down to a minimum.
Should You Call Your Doctor?
“Morning sickness is a good sign of a thriving pregnancy,” says Charles Jones, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Kaiser Permanente in Otay Mesa. “In fact, some theories suggest that this nausea is nature’s way of protecting the developing fetus from toxins in certain foods and beverages.”
Even though morning sickness is fairly common in pregnancy, some symptoms may require your doctor’s attention. “It’s important to keep hydrated,” says Jones, who has been in practice for nearly 20 years. “Doctors look for signs of dehydration, like low or concentrated urination, dizziness or a racing heart. That’s why it’s important for expectant mothers to drink liquids regularly. Otherwise, their condition may require medical intervention.”
Some other symptoms you may want to contact your doctor about include:
It Won’t Last Forever
- Vomiting for more than 12 hours.
- A fever above 102 degrees.
- Blood in the vomit.
- No sign of improvement in a few days.
- Losing more than a few pounds.
Even though it may seem like morning sickness will last forever, it will come to an end. Remember that most women feel significantly better during their second trimester. Use whatever combination of strategies that work for you to make those few weeks easier. And before you know it, you’ll be holding your bundle of joy and that queasy feeling will only be a memory.
Award-winning writer Claire Yezbak Fadden is proud to say that she lived through morning sickness three times and is the mother of three healthy sons. Follow her on Twitter @claireflaire.
Photo credit: monkeybusinessimages, pablocalvog, gpointstudio — iStock
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