Nausea is a well-known symptom of pregnancy, affecting at least 70% of expecting mothers. Also called morning sickness, nausea usually begins at around six weeks, peaks between weeks 8-11, and typically fades near the end of the first trimester. However, some women experience nausea as both a second trimester and third trimester symptom.
The early weeks of pregnancy can be an exciting and confusing time. You’re beginning a journey that involves many physical and emotional changes, and it’s not always easy to know how you’ll feel from one day to the next. But we’re here to help you understand the changes you’re going through, and morning sickness can be one of the most noticeable.
Below, we cover what to expect and what you can do to find some relief from this common pregnancy symptom.
What is morning sickness and what are the symptoms?
Morning sickness is a feeling of nausea, sometimes also accompanied by vomiting. It can be one of the earliest signs of pregnancy for many women, appearing a couple weeks after a positive pregnancy test.
Despite being called morning sickness, pregnancy nausea can happen at any time of day. Women often feel the most nauseous on an empty stomach, which is most apparent when you wake up after not eating all night, hence how it got its name.
Morning sickness symptoms frequently occur on their own, but can also be triggered by certain foods, smells, heat, stress and other factors. The feeling can range from slight queasiness, like being a little carsick, to more intense nausea and vomiting.
Can you be pregnant and not have morning sickness?
Morning sickness is made out to be very common in movies and television, and it is. But it’s also possible to be pregnant without experiencing it. Three out of 10 pregnant women don’t experience morning sickness, so it’s not rare or concerning if that’s the case.
The same goes for aversions to certain foods or smells. Every pregnancy is unique, so not every pregnant woman will experience the same symptoms. If you think you could be pregnant but aren’t experiencing morning sickness or other symptoms, taking a pregnancy test is the only way to find out for sure.
What causes morning sickness?
While the exact cause isn't well understood, many doctors believe morning sickness happens because of hormones. The pregnancy hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) reaches its highest level around the same time morning sickness is most severe. And, increases in the hormones estrogen and progesterone can make it harder for your body to digest food, adding to stomach discomfort.
When does morning sickness start?
If you’re one of the many pregnant women who experience morning sickness, you may start feeling nauseous somewhere around the sixth week of your pregnancy, typically two weeks after your first missed period. Symptoms may appear gradually or seem to happen overnight.
Is it normal to be nauseous all day when pregnant?
Don’t be fooled by the name. Morning sickness can strike at any time, and it’s totally normal for it to last all day. No two women experience it in the same way. Also, some women who had morning sickness in their first pregnancy may not have any nausea at all in their second, and vice-versa.
When does morning sickness end?
Morning nausea usually peaks between weeks 8-11, and typically fades by the end of the first trimester. However, some women can experience nausea in their second trimester, and even the third.
If your morning sickness lasts beyond your first trimester, you may be more sensitive to the effects of hormonal changes during pregnancy. Or you may just have a more delicate stomach. But it’s a good idea to bring up your morning sickness with your doctor or midwife to learn about your options for relief.
Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG)
If you’re throwing up more than two to three times a day and aren’t able to keep anything down, you may have hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), a form of severe morning sickness. Some cases can be treated with pressure-point wristbands, like those worn to prevent motion sickness. In other cases, you might need medication, bed rest or intravenous (IV) fluids to help reduce or eliminate symptoms.
Many women tolerate morning sickness because they know that nausea is normal during pregnancy, however they may not realize that severe vomiting is not as normal and requires attention. That’s why it’s important to know the signs of HG. Talk to your care provider right away if you are vomiting so much that you:
- Become persistently dehydrated
- Can’t keep any foods or liquids down for 24 hours
- Feel weak, dizzy and/or lightheaded
- Lose three or more pounds in a week
It’s important to know what’s normal and what’s not. If you have any concerns about your morning sickness, our experienced team of OB-GYNs and midwives can help you get personalized care that’s right for you.
Is morning sickness bad for the baby?
It’s natural to wonder about whether your nausea and loss of appetite could be harmful to your baby. But rest assured, if you’re still able to eat and stay hydrated, your baby will still get all their needed nutrients. In rare and severe cases of morning sickness, your doctor or midwife will work to ensure that you and baby are getting the necessary nutrition and hydration to stay healthy.
What can I do to find relief from pregnancy nausea?
You don’t have to tough it out and wait for the day your morning sickness subsides. There are plenty of simple, safe and effective strategies you can try to combat nausea.
Eat smaller meals throughout the day
Having an empty stomach for too long can make anyone feel sick. Eating small snacks throughout the day in between larger meals can keep you from feeling queasy. But remember, eating too much can make you feel just as nauseous. It’s all about finding a balance that will keep you feeling good.
Avoid trigger foods
Some food and drinks are difficult to digest and may make you feel sicker. Try to stay away from caffeine, acidic foods such as tomatoes, and greasy or spicy foods.
Iron supplements can also contribute to nausea and constipation, so talk to your doctor or midwife if you’re taking one.
Try the B.R.A.T. diet
If you can’t seem to find anything that agrees with you, try these foods that are bland and easy to digest: bananas, rice, applesauce and toast.
Drink a lot of fluids. In addition to water, sports hydration drinks, broth and juice can help replace nutrients that you may lose from vomiting.
Eating and drinking foods with ginger can help calm the feelings of nausea. Easy options include ginger ale, ginger hard candy, ginger lollipops or ginger tea.
Take a vitamin B6 supplement
Though it may already be present in your prenatal vitamin, taking additional vitamin B6 has shown to be effective in reducing nausea during pregnancy. You can take up 25 to 50 mg of vitamin B6 per day, but it’s best to talk to your care provider before taking additional supplements.
Wear a wristband
As mentioned above, there are a variety of wristbands available over the counter that are designed to prevent motion sickness. They work by applying pressure to specific pressure points that can help ease nausea.
Experiment with different temperatures
You may have an easier time eating or drinking cold foods and beverages, or your stomach may feel calmer after a hot meal. Room temperature or warm food and drinks can sometimes cause nausea.
Keep a morning sickness record
What time of day does nausea strike? What are you doing when it does? By tracking your symptoms, you just might identify triggers that make you queasy – like certain foods or smells – so you can avoid them going forward.
Pack the essentials
If morning sickness does end up causing you to vomit, you can make it easier by carrying a few supplies with you. Feeling prepared by bringing a toothbrush and toothpaste, mouthwash, a backup shirt and even a plastic bag can give you peace of mind and make morning sickness feel more manageable.
Ask your doctor or midwife about finding relief from pregnancy nausea
These remedies may not work for everyone, and there are other solutions for more persistent symptoms. Talk to your care provider about anti-nausea medications that are safe to take while pregnant.
While morning sickness can be a challenging part of any pregnancy, it’s also a sign that your body is doing what it needs to support your growing baby. That said, you shouldn’t have to suffer through pregnancy nausea that interferes with your daily life and your ability to be present at work or with family.
Fortunately, there’s help available to make your pregnancy a bit smoother and more comfortable. If you’d like to explore your options for improving symptoms of pregnancy nausea, our women's health experts are here to help.