About 80% of women experience morning sickness during pregnancy and many are looking to ease their symptoms. There are many anecdotal cures for morning sickness, but very few of them have been studied, we’ll be looking at some that have and finding out why not all women get morning sickness at the time of day you would expect them to.
Contrary to opinion, morning sickness is actually a good sign of a healthy pregnancy, despite the discomfort it brings. Yet, there is debate as to whether it is useful in and of itself or if it’s just a byproduct of a healthy pregnancy.
Other animals don’t suffer from morning sickness and it’s thought that may have something to do with our very broad diet. Instead of evolving molecules to defend against toxins as other animals have done, humans simply evolved a way to keep away from dangerous foods and chemicals.
One evening, during Bev’s pregnancy, I was abruptly told to “stop cooking that bloody broccoli”. What was that all about? It was our favourite cruciferous vegetable and for the past several years, was a regular on our dinner plates. Why was she attacking the broccoli? Was this the beginning of a hormonal, grumpy, pregnant version of Bev that I had to get accustomed to for the next several months? Or had I committed some grave injustice that had upset her?
As it turns out, when it came to morning sickness, broccoli became Bev’s nemesis. But, that’s not what we ever called it. We never ate broccoli for breakfast, or even for lunch. It was something we only ever ate in the evening and this was when Bev’s “morning sickness” reared its ugly head. As a consequence, we referred to it as “evening sickness”. We later learned that morning sickness can occur at any time of the day and isn’t, as the name suggests, restricted to the early hours.
Morning sickness is something that is thought to affect 70 – 80% of all pregnant women, with around 60% experiencing vomiting. Then for a small minority (thought to be less than 2%), the effects of morning sickness can be far more serious, with a condition called hyperemesis gravidarum. This condition became better known because Kate Middleton (AKA Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge) is known to have suffered from it with all of her pregnancies.
Morning sickness often begins somewhere around 4-6 weeks into pregnancy. For most women, this period lasts until around the 16th week of pregnancy, but for some, it remains until birth – this is especially true of those with a multiple pregnancy.
Morning sickness wasn’t always associated with pregnancy. Before it was co-opted by pregnant women it was used to describe, as you would expect, sickness in the morning. Excessive use of tobacco was noted as the cause of one man’s morning sickness. Whilst a cure was proposed for the morning sickness of drunkards, aka hangovers.
Curing morning sickness is the holy grail many expectant mothers seek, but alas, there is no magic cure. There are no studies looking at “cures” but there are a few that have been shown to help alleviate mild symptoms:
There are some studies that would suggest acupressure can help. More specifically, pressure on one point. Located on the inside of the arm about one-sixth of the distance up from the wrist, between two tendons. The studies used bands that applied pressure to points on the body. They found that this point offered greater relief from the symptoms of morning sickness than those located elsewhere.
Ginger has been shown in a few studies to be more effective at reducing the symptoms of mild morning sickness and the researchers noted that it made no difference in how the ginger was prepared (fresh, powdered, tablets, capsules or syrup)
Vitamin B6 (aka pyridoxine) has also been quite well studied. Studies have shown that it is more effective than placebos and has been shown to be similarly effective as ginger in treating mild morning sickness.
There has been a study suggesting that antihistamines may help. One antihistamine, in particular, doxylamine. However, it has been shown to be more effective when used in conjunction with B6.
There are stronger prescription only medications too, mostly anti-nausea medications. One drug especially was shown to be effective in treating all severities of morning sickness. This drug, called ondansetron, is typically used to treat nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy.
Then there’s the long list of motion sickness treatments from changing your eating habits to using natural remedies such as peppermint, lemon and camomile. But, there is one natural motion sickness remedy that should be avoided – liquorice. Liquorice contains a compound called glycyrrhizin that inhibits an enzyme designed to protect an unborn baby from stress hormones.
Despite decades of research and its widespread nature, science has yet to fully understand exactly what causes it. Every one of us is completely individual and because a pregnancy involves two of us the variations are near infinite. Because of this, when it comes to alleviating the symptoms of morning sickness there is no “one size fits all” and the things that worked with one pregnancy often change with the next. How you deal with your symptoms and what works best for you will be very unique to you and your baby. In Bev’s case, eating early became the new normal and when the nausea kicked in, the simplest thing was to just to go to bed.
Morning sickness can be mild for some and downright horrendous for others. Do what works for you and your situation and wherever you sit on the spectrum, remember that morning sickness is considered a sign of a healthy pregnancy.