Morning sickness is an incredibly common, essentially normal experience for women in their first trimester of pregnancy. Roughly 70% of all pregnant women report symptoms of nausea and vomiting consistent with what’s commonly known as “morning sickness.” A very small portion of those women (something like 3%) may go on to experience a particularly severe form of morning sickness called hyperemesis.
Much like pregnancy itself, morning sickness will vary from mother to mother. In nearly all cases, morning sickness will eventually go away on its own and will have no adverse impact on your lifestyle or your pregnancy.
But if you have concerns about your morning sickness–or your symptoms seem especially severe–you can talk to your OBGYN about potential treatments, tips, and solutions. That way you can spend more time enjoying your pregnancy and planning your future.
What is Morning Sickness?
When you’re pregnant, your body changes rapidly. As a result of these swift transformations, you may experience occasional waves of nausea and vomiting. Over the years, these symptoms have become known colloquially as “morning sickness.” While it’s often portrayed in the movies as a race to the bathroom before throwing up, the reality of morning sickness is a bit more mundane. You’ll likely experience more nausea than you do actual vomiting. But it can be an annoying sensation nonetheless.
No one is quite sure what the root cause of morning sickness actually is. The leading theory is that the nausea and vomiting is caused by hormonal changes in the body.
What is well established, however, is that morning sickness is an incredibly normal development, most commonly during the first trimester of your pregnancy. And, despite the name, morning sickness can be experienced any time of the day. For some women, the nausea is most intense in the evening. For others, the sensation may come and go throughout the day. Every morning sickness experience is valid.
The good news is that morning sickness will almost always fade as the weeks go by, and most women no longer experience symptoms after week 14 or so. This can make pregnancy a much more pleasant experience!
Morning Sickness Risks
In general, risks from run of the mill morning sickness tend to be quite minimal. In some cases, excessive vomiting could cause dehydration or electrolyte imbalances. So long as these issues are successfully addressed (usually with a hydration plan), you should expect your morning sickness to have no impact on your long term health or baby.
Morning sickness is incredibly common–and a normal part of most pregnancies. However, research suggests that you may be more likely to experience morning sickness if:
- You are currently pregnant with twins, triplets, or more.
- Have a history of morning sickness (for instance, if you experienced morning sickness during your first pregnancy, it’s likely you may repeat those symptoms during your second).
- You had a history of nausea before you were pregnant. For example, if motion, certain smells or specific foods could make you nauseous before you became pregnant, you might have a higher probability of experiencing morning sickness
What Should I Do About Morning Sickness?
In most cases, morning sickness will abate on its own as the first trimester moves into the second (typically around week 14 or so). For most women, morning sickness remains mild through the duration of the first trimester.
But if the nausea begins to cause prolonged discomfort, your OBGYN will be able to offer treatments to help you manage symptoms.
That may include over-the-counter remedies such as ginger, vitamin B-6, or doxylamine (a common antihistamine), depending on what works best for you and your body. You may also be advised to avoid certain foods that could be causing nausea episodes (spicy foods, for example, have been known to exacerbate morning sickness).
Morning sickness doesn’t have to make you miserable. That’s a lot your OBGYN can do to help you manage your symptoms in a safe and effective way.
What is Hyperemesis?
When morning sickness is particularly severe and prolonged, it may be classified as a condition called hyperemesis gravidarum (or HG, as it is sometimes called). At first, HG and typical morning sickness may be difficult to differentiate from each other. Hyperemesis is, after all, quite rare. Most researchers place the number of pregnant women affected by HG at somewhere between 0.5-3%.
Usually, the most noticeable signs that you’re dealing with HG and not typical morning sickness will be:
- Nausea and vomiting is intense and lasts several weeks.
- You vomit often. Most morning sickness is characterized by nausea rather than vomiting. That’s not necessarily the case with HG.
- You notice a slight loss of body weight (5% loss of body weight is not uncommon with hyperemesis).
- You experience waves of faintness or have moments where you feel light-headed.
- You have aversions to specific foods. For some women with hyperemesis, the sight of a particular food can cause vomiting.
- Extreme fatigue.
If HG continues untreated, you may notice more significant symptoms. For example, in rather prolonged cases you might begin to notice jaundice, headaches, or loss of skin elasticity. If you notice any of these symptoms, you should talk to your OBGYN. The sooner you can develop a treatment plan for your hyperemesis, the better you’ll be able to manage symptoms.
How is Hyperemesis Treated?
Treatment for HG will vary depending on the intensity of your symptoms, though the goal is usually the same: helping you get the nutrients and energy your body needs. You’ll work closely with your OBGYN to develop a customized treatment plan for your hyperemesis. The most common and effective treatments include:
- Simple lifestyle changes: Most women with HG are encouraged to start eating more frequently–but with less volume. This can help keep your tummy from becoming too unsettled and make sure that you are getting necessary nutrients. With these lifestyle changes, your OBGYN will try to work with what your body is doing naturally.
- Vitamin B: In some cases, your OBGYN may recommend taking a vitamin B to help settle your hyperemesis. Specifically, Vitamin B-6 (also known as pyridoxine) and Vitamin B-1 (also known as Thiamine) can help ease vomiting and nausea for some women.
- Ginger: Ginger has natural properties that can help with hyperemesis symptoms, especially if those symptoms are on the moderate side. There’s something to be said for a soothing ginger tea!
- Medications: There are several medications that can help make you less nauseous. Your OBGYN will work with you to ensure any anti-nausea meds will be safe for you and for your baby.
- Hospital care: In the rare event that none of the above methods have worked to help curb your vomiting, your OBGYN may recommend hospital treatment. A hospital will be able to administer IV fluids. In some cases, tube feeding is deployed to help you regain strength. Rarely, IV feeding–which bypasses the stomach altogether–may be used to help keep your nutrition up.
Risks Associated with Hyperemesis
Losing weight while you have hyperemesis is relatively common. Many report losing up to 5% of their body weight due to this condition. Hyperemesis left untreated can go on to cause malnutrition-related complications both for you and your baby, including an increased risk for preterm birth.
However, it’s very rare to see such complications associated with HG in a modern setting. Your OBGYN will be able to offer effective therapies, and weight loss can be successfully reversed before any adverse effects are experienced. Treatment of hyperemesis has proven to be very effective.
Getting Back to Enjoying Your Pregnancy
The vast majority of morning sickness and hyperemesis cases don’t last longer than week 20 of pregnancy. But that doesn’t mean your first trimester can’t be filled with joy, fun, and fulfillment. With the right treatment–and with your OBGYN’s help–you can manage morning sickness symptoms. That means you can get back to picking out baby names, browsing for baby clothes, and painting your nursery.