What causes nausea and vomiting in pregnancy?
Nausea is actually a good sign that your pregnancy hormone levels are high enough to allow your baby to develop and grow. But if you don’t feel sick, don’t worry, as you may just be one of the lucky ones. As many as eight out of 10 women feel nausea in pregnancy, with or without vomiting.
Now that you’re pregnant, your body is producing the hormone human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG) in large quantities. Once your placenta takes over maintaining and nourishing your baby, hCG levels drop and your nausea should ease. Your sickness is likely to subside once you are between 12 weeks and 14 weeks.
But other hormones may also play a part in causing your sickness, including oestrogen and thyroxine. This is probably why some women’s symptoms last well beyond their first trimester.
If you’re tired, hungry, stressed or anxious, your nausea may be worse. And if you are expecting twins or triplets, you may vomit more often because you have higher levels of pregnancy hormones.
If you are vomiting several times a day and unable to eat and drink without vomiting, call your doctor or midwife immediately. Severe vomiting and sickness, hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), may lead to dehydration, which may require treatment in hospital.
How can I prevent nausea?
It is difficult to prevent sickness completely. It is a natural and normal part of pregnancy. However, you may be able stop it from becoming a major problem.
Relaxation and complementary therapies may help you to reduce your stress levels. Get plenty of rest and consider taking time off work. Eat little and often and work out which foods make your symptoms worse. Rich, fried, fatty or highly-spiced foods are regular culprits.
If you are feeling very sick, try not to worry about eating a balanced diet at this stage. You and your baby can catch up on the right amount of nutrients later in your pregnancy, when your nausea may have subsided.
Most importantly, keep well hydrated, sipping iced water, lemon juice, barley water, or whatever you can manage.
If you really can’t keep anything down, whether food or drink, see your midwife or doctor without delay.
What self-help tips can I try to ease nausea?
Ginger is often claimed to be effective against pregnancy sickness. However ginger may make your symptoms worse or cause you to have heartburn.
Ginger is a common remedy in Chinese medicine. It’s based on the system of yin and yang and other opposing factors, including heat and cold. Ginger is a hot (yang) remedy and will make your sickness worse if you are already too hot. Ginger will suit you if you:
- wrap yourself up in layers of clothing and blankets
- feel miserable, introspective and disinterested in your surroundings
- feel and look cold
- need hot drinks
Try not to rely on ginger biscuits, as these contain a lot of sugar and not enough ginger to be effective.
Try making a tea from grated root ginger. Steep two teaspoons in boiled water, leave it to cool, and sip it throughout the day. Don’t take more than 3g of raw ginger (about three teaspoons) a day. Ginger capsules are an option if you don’t like the tea.
Ginger works in the same way as prescribed medicines and may have an adverse effect on your blood-clotting mechanism. If you take it for more than three weeks, ask your doctor to check your blood clotting. If you are taking prescribed anti-coagulant drugs, aspirin or other similar medicines, you should not take ginger.
This is a suitable cold (yin) alternative if you:
- feel constantly hot and want to remove layers of clothing
- want cool drinks
- look hot and bothered and red-faced
- feel irritable and hot tempered
However, if you are taking homeopathic remedies, the strong mint aroma may stop them from being effective.
Try sipping peppermint or spearmint tea. Sugar-free peppermint sweets or chewing gum may also help. Peppermint or spearmint essential oil will not suit everyone, as the strong smell could make you feel more sick.
Other herbal remedies worth trying include lemon balm tea, slippery elm lozenges, or small amounts of chamomile tea. The effects can be quite short-lived, so you may need to experiment and perhaps rotate the remedies to get the best effects.
Pressing an acupuncture point (pericardium point six) on your wrist may help to relieve your nausea. You can buy wristbands which help you to apply this pressure.
Make sure that the button in the band is placed on the acupuncture point. To locate this:
- Use one hand on the inside of your opposite wrist, measuring up three finger widths from the crease between your hand and arm.
- At the point where your third finger is, lift the pressure off until you are just touching the skin and feel lightly for a slight dip. Press into this dip quite deeply and it will feel bruised.
- Place the button on the wristbands at this precise tender point on both wrists.
Put the bands on first thing in the morning before you get out of bed.
When you experience a wave of nausea, press on the button on each wrist about 20 to 30 times at one second intervals. If you forget your wristbands, you can simply press on these two points, or ask someone to do it for you on both wrists at the same time.
If movement, such as car motion, makes your sickness worse, try listening to music which contains underlying, frequent pulsations. This will recondition the balancing mechanism in your inner ear. Wear headphones to allow the music and pulsations to rebound against your ear.
Eating vitamin B6-rich foods, such as avocados and chicken, may relieve your symptoms. A vitamin B supplement may also reduce your nausea if you can swallow the pills, but they probably won’t prevent you from vomiting. Always talk to your midwife before taking supplements in pregnancy.
Which complementary therapies could help?
Choose a complementary practitioner who is trained and experienced in treating women in early pregnancy. Osteopathy and chiropractic can be effective, especially if you have had any problems with your joints or posture in the past.
Aromatherapy may relax you, but the smell of the oils may make your nausea worse. Essential oils which may relieve your nausea include:
- ginger (occasionally)
Reflexology that is not done correctly may make your symptoms worse, so only see a registered practitioner. After your first treatment, be ready for your symptoms to get worse before they get better. Your body may need to be kick-started into dealing with the symptoms.
Hypnotherapy may be effective if your symptoms are made worse by stress, anxiety and fear, or ongoing emotional issues. But there isn’t much evidence that it is directly effective in combating pregnancy sickness.
There’s no evidence that homeopathy works. But if you’d like to try it, make sure that you see a qualified, registered practitioner.