Strategies for Managing Morning Sickness

AndieM.Ed., RD, LDN, CLC, RYT-200

Read time: 6 minutes

What should I know about nausea and vomiting during pregnancy?

  • Morning sickness does not just occur in the morning

  • Causes of nausea and vomiting during pregnancy

  • When morning sickness may start and how long it lasts

  • Tips to help relieve morning sickness symptoms

  • Know when to call your doctor

It is not uncommon for newly pregnant women to experience nausea and vomiting, often called “morning sickness”. In fact, a whopping 70-80% of pregnant women are affected by these symptoms.1 Although the cause is somewhat unclear, it may be at least partially due to the increased hormones surging through your body during pregnancy.2

Causes of morning sickness during pregnancy

While changing hormones may play a role in morning sickness, there are some other factors that may influence it as well.

Your genetics, as well as predisposition to motion sickness or migraine headaches, may increase your risk for developing nausea and vomiting.1,3 Additionally, added stress and fatigue may exacerbate your symptoms.1,2

Women pregnant with multiples may also be more likely to experience morning sickness.5

Learn about: Creating Stress-Lowing Routines in Pregnancy

When does morning sickness start and how long does it last?

Despite the nickname, the intensity and duration of symptoms are not limited to the morning but can actually happen at any time of day.4 Many women only experience nausea, but up to 50% may also have vomiting or retching.6

When you begin to experience morning sickness can vary from person to person. Some women start to feel nauseous before or around 9 weeks, while others may actually start feeling sick as early as 3 weeks.7

The good news is that these symptoms are usually mild and not harmful to you or your baby, and usually resolve themselves around the 16th to 18th week of pregnancy.5,6 Unfortunately, a small percentage of women may continue to experience nausea and vomiting up until delivery.6

If you are experiencing nausea and vomiting that feels severe, it’s important to contact your healthcare provider. You’ll find more information on excessive vomiting, also called hyperemesis gravidarum, later in this article.

Hydration is essential

Always remember to stay hydrated! During pregnancy, your body needs about 8 to 12 (8oz) cups of fluid a day in order to support your baby’s development, nutrition, and well-being in the womb.8

If you find that you are eating less due to nausea, your fluid intake needs will only increase. And on top of that, not drinking enough may cause dehydration, which can make your nausea worse.8

Sometimes a bad taste in your mouth may make you not want to drink. Try chewing gum, sucking on a sour candy, or brushing your teeth to help you be more open to hydration.8

And since vomiting can lead to excessive loss of water, nutrients, and electrolytes in your body, be sure to drink additional liquids for each episode of vomiting. Ask your health care provider if extra electrolytes are needed.

Keep reading for some hydration tips if you’re having a tough time getting fluids down!

Read about: Tips for Staying Hydrated while Pregnant and Breastfeeding

What if I have severe nausea and vomiting?

Severe nausea and vomiting is called hyperemesis gravidarum. This excessive vomiting may become dangerous to you and your baby if left untreated.

Call your health care provider if:

  • Morning sickness is not improving or lasts longer than 4 months

  • You are noticing blood in your vomit (which may look like coffee grounds)

  • You cannot keep liquids down and are vomiting more than 3 times per day

  • You are experiencing excessive weight loss2,9

Up to 35% of women who have morning sickness find that their symptoms interfere with their daily life and activities.10 In fact, it seems there is a strong correlation between severe nausea and vomiting and anxiety and depression.3,10,11

If you are feeling overwhelmed, extreme unhappiness, and hopeless, be sure to chat with your health care provider.

Need a bit more support with managing your morning sickness? Reach out to our team of registered dietitians and lactation consultants for free! They’re here to help on our free to live chat from Monday – Friday 8am-6pm (ET), and Saturday – Sunday 8am-2pm (ET). Chat Now!

Tips to help relieve your morning sickness symptoms

Eat small amounts frequently

Nausea can be at its worst on an empty stomach, so try nibbling on mild yet nutritious foods that are high in protein and carbs but low in fat.2,5 Go for foods such as citrus fruits (orange, grapefruit, and tangerine), nuts, nut butter on apple slices, low fat yogurt, cheese on whole grain toast, or whole grain crackers throughout the day. 

Try to eat smaller more frequent meals. Being overly full may cause more nausea and eating a smaller amount more frequently can help keep your stomach from becoming completely empty.5,9

Keep a snack by your bed so you can eat something first thing in the morning- some women find relief by having a snack, such as crackers, even before getting out of bed!8,9

Read more: Meal Plan to help Manage Morning Sickness

Try ginger

Ginger may help settle your stomach.13,14

You can make homemade ginger tea by grating raw ginger into a cup with hot water and steeping for three minutes. Or purchase ginger tea bags at your local store.8 Ginger soda or ginger lollipops / candies may be helpful as well.5

Ginger also comes in capsule form which can provide higher doses for symptom relief.15 Just remember to always check with your physician before adding any herbal supplement to your routine.

Avoid and reduce strong smells

Smells can play a big role in nausea.

Keeping windows open or getting air flowing in your home may help keep the air smelling fresh by removing strong odors.2 Sometimes smelling fresh cut citrus, such as lemon or orange, or even fresh mint may help.5

Switch to lower fat foods for now

Fat can slow down how fast the stomach empties, which may make nausea worse. Avoiding large amounts of high fat and fried foods may be helpful.5,8

Focus on low fat foods like yogurt, fresh fruit, and vegetables; proteins like chicken, lean beef, and fish; whole grain pasta, and whole grain toast or crackers. Even a bit of nut butter smeared on bread or fruit slices may feel okay!

But if only white bread and grains are appealing to you now, don’t worry! Just get back to whole grains when you’re feeling better. Also give quinoa, millet and teff a try since they might be easier for you to tolerate than wheat products.

Learn about: Healthy Snacks Ideas During Pregnancy

Choose bland foods over spicy

Rich, spicy, and fried foods (like French fries, curry, cheesecake, and fried chicken) may be irritating for some women.3,6

Swap these items for more bland foods, such as oatmeal, eggs, and starchier fruits and vegetables like banana and sweet potato.

Read more: What Nutrients Do I Need During Pregnancy?

Hydration and Electrolytes

Certain foods, such as fruits and vegetables, contribute to our daily fluid needs. If you’re not eating as much due to food aversions and nausea, it may be important to increase your fluid intake a bit.

If you find it difficult to drink, here are some things to try:

  • Carbonated water or small amounts of ginger ale or lemonade

  • Water with squeezes of fresh citrus

  • Sip fluids through a straw

  • Sucking on homemade juice cubes or popsicles

  • Drink between meals rather than with them5,9

If you are experiencing vomiting, you may want to add in foods with sodium and potassium, which are important electrolytes. Foods with potassium include: Apricots, prunes, baked potato, banana, dairy, broccoli, cantaloupe, and coconut water.12 Foods high in sodium include: clear broth, salted pretzels, and chicken stock.

Chat with your doctor if you are concerned about your electrolytes.

Read more: Meal Plan for Increasing Fruits and Vegetables

Try liquid foods and smoothies

You may find it easier to drink than eat when you are feeling nauseous. Try eating pureed soups or smoothies, like this Rehydrating Smoothie:

Ingredients:

  • 1 banana

  • 1 cup coconut water (plain or flavored)

  • ½ cup fresh or frozen fruit like peaches, oranges, pineapple, watermelon or berries

  • Ice (optional!)

Directions:

  • Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender, mix until smooth and serve cold.

Additional tips that may help relieve morning sickness

  • Some women find that using acupressure wrist bands or getting acupressure treatments may help relieve some of their nausea.9,16

  • While more studies are needed, taking probiotics may help relieve symptoms in women.17

  • B6 supplementation may help reduce nausea for some women.2,3,6

  • You may even want to avoid flashing lights and looking at the computer for too long, both of which may affect motion sickness and therefore increase the risk or nausea.5

Always speak with your health care provider before starting any new supplements.

Take your prenatal vitamin with food

The iron in your prenatal vitamin might be aggravating your stomach. You can try taking it at bedtime or with a meal to see if that helps.2,5

If you suspect your prenatal is the culprit, talk to your doctor about an alternative, such as one with less iron or a chewable option.5

Read about: Safely Taking Vitamin and Herbal Supplements While Pregnant

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Our Happy Baby Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitians certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too, which means they’ve been there and seen that. They’re here to help on our free, live chat platform Monday - Friday 8am-6pm (ET), and Saturday - Sunday 8am-2pm (ET).Chat Now!

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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:

How Much Should I Eat While Pregnant?

Food Safety During Pregnancy