Michael van Straten
Michael van Straten

Morning Sickness

Although it’s called morning sickness, this miserable nausea and vomiting during pregnancy can occur at any time of the day. Though it’s not clear what causes the problem, it’s almost certainly linked to the increase of hormone levels during the early stages of pregnancy, when around a third of women endure the symptoms to a greater or lesser degree.

In most cases the nausea and vomiting only happen first thing in the morning, but it may be a regular afternoon occurrence instead. For some unfortunate women it can occur throughout the day and can continue right the way through to the birth. In these extreme circumstances this may give rise to serious health concerns.

Although any woman can develop morning sickness when she becomes pregnant, the majority never have any problems. There do appear to be a number of triggers like smells, getting overtired, being hungry, going too long without food and even the type of diet the woman is following. If you’re planning to get pregnant it’s interesting that having your first baby, being overweight, coming from a reasonably well off white background, or if you’re a young, unmarried, first time mum-to-be, there’s a much higher chance that you’ll get morning sickness.

For most mums who suffer it’s not much more than an inconvenience and many may simply feel nauseous without actually being sick. If the problem is really severe it can result in dehydration, weight loss, malnutrition and a serious imbalance of essential minerals. This can lead to a condition called ’hyperemesis gravidarum’ and in this situation the mother may end up in hospital on a drip for rehydration, and even taking medication to prevent the vomiting. Though both mums and doctors are really resistant to prescribing drugs with possible side effects during pregnancy, in this case both mother and baby are at such severe risk that prescribing the drugs is not only justifiable but vital.

But here’s the good news. Even after severe pregnancy sickness the result is nearly always a healthy mum and a healthy baby, and there are lots of things you can do to both prevent and treat the symptoms naturally. Choosing the best option really is a question of horses for courses, so you may need a little experimentation to find which methods are best for you.

Eat little and often so you avoid extra-large meals which can be a trigger. Eat lots of good quality carbohydrate foods like wholemeal bread, potatoes, rice, pasta, beans and lentils. Use bananas, dried fruits and unsalted nuts as snacks between meals to keep your blood sugar on an even keel and to provide extra vitamins and minerals.

Keep off coffee, even decaffeinated, and drink Chinese green tea, herb teas or if you must, very weak Indian tea. Avoid fried, greasy and other high fat foods which tend to make the nausea worse and make sure that you have some fingers of dry toast or unsweetened oatmeal biscuits – the sort you normally eat with cheese – on your bedside table at night.

If you are already suffering with morning sickness, then as well as following the food suggestions, try some natural remedies. The most effective of all is ginger for all sorts of travel sickness and nausea after surgery. It’s best taken as freshly made ginger tea. Simply grate half an inch of peeled ginger root into a mug, add boiling water, cover and leave to stand for 10 minutes. Strain, add a teaspoon of honey and sip slowly.

You can have this drink throughout the day. But it’s a great idea to make a thermos full before you go to bed and add it to the biscuits on the bedside table. Have a cup the minute you wake in the morning and before you do everything else. Ginger teabags are available and you could also use commercial preparations of ginger, but if you’re desperate and there’s nothing else available then ginger biscuits, crystallised or stem ginger may do the trick.

A lot of my patients benefited by taking small amounts of extra vitamin B6 and magnesium and it’s also worth trying the homoeopathic remedies Nux vomica or Ipecacuana. If you’re getting nausea throughout the day but no vomiting, then try a glass of mint tea after each meal. You can buy peppermint teabags but a sprig of fresh mint in a glass of boiling water with a slice of lemon tastes much nicer and is just as effective.

Seabands, another useful aid, are elasticated wristbands with a little stud, which presses against an acupuncture point on the inside of the wrist – they come with illustrated directions. Originally developed for sea sickness, a number of clinical trials have shown that they really do help with morning sickness too.

Ten Food Tips

For a healthy pregnancy there are foods which you should eat plenty of throughout pregnancy and breast feeding, and those you should avoid.

Here are the ten most important:-

Apples: These neutralise the acidity produced by indigestion. They contain pectin, a fibre that keeps the bowels functioning properly and lowers cholesterol.

Broccoli: This is a rich source of vitamins A and C. It also provides iron, calcium, potassium and folic acid.

Brown rice: This provides many of the B vitamins, some fibre, iron, potassium and protein.

Herrings: These are a fine source of vitamins A, B and d. They also contain iodine, selenium, phosphorus, potassium, iron and calcium. Most importantly during pregnancy, they supply the omega-3 fatty acids.

Kiwi fruit: These give you twice as much vitamin C as an orange, more fibre than an apple, as much vitamin E as an avocado and lots of potassium, a lack of which can lead to fatigue and poor digestion.

Onions and garlic: These are good for the heart and circulation.

Walnuts: These nuts are high in protein, B vitamins, calcium , potassium, phosphorous, zinc and iron.

Cloves: This aromatic spice is a great aid to digestion. It reduces nausea, flatulence and dyspepsia.

Liver, in any form, as it contains enormous quantities of vitamin A which can potentially damage the developing baby. Liver pates may contain salmonella or listeria bacteria.

Any unpasteurised milk, soft cheeses or undercooked eggs, which may be a source of salmonella or listeria bacteria.

Food cravings are common during pregnancy but some women develop a condition called ’pica’ - the medical term for strange and unnatural cravings that drive people to eat substances which are not foods. Earth, clay, coal, wood, and chalk are common.

The onset of pica should be taken seriously as a sign of potential anaemia during pregnancy. Although iron stores in the body of anaemic babies can be increased by supplements, brain stores don’t respond in the same way and this can have long term effects on behaviour and IQ.

Another serious consequence of pica is the risk of lead poisoning, especially if soil is one of the chosen ’foods’.


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