Pregnancy sickness is a common condition that affects over half of pregnant women. It is usually referred to as morning sickness, but this is not an entirely accurate designation since it can occur at any time during the day. Nausea and vomiting may be one of the first signs of pregnancy. Pregnancy sickness is thought to be mainly due to changes in hormone levels and balances. It typically begins around the 4th to 6th week of pregnancy and in most instances resolves by the 12th to 16th week, but can persist throughout pregnancy. In about 1% of pregnancies there is vomiting severe enough to cause dehydration, weight loss, and metabolic disturbances, a condition known as hyperemesis gravidarum that requires aggressive treatment, which may include anti-nausea medications.
Pregnancy sickness is likely a defense mechanism that serves to protect both baby and mother. It causes women to experience nausea when exposed to the smell or taste of foods that may contain potentially harmful toxins. The human body has detoxification systems that protect against such exposures, but they are not fully developed in a young fetus, so exposures that may have little effect on an adult may be quite harmful to the developing baby. Since pregnant women’s immune system activity is somewhat suppressed, the toxin avoidance mechanism can also be protective for the mother.
There are a number of ways to help reduce the impact of pregnancy sickness. Following food cravings and aversions is a simple and often effective starting point. Certain foodstuffs are known to help provide relief. Lemons (notably the scent of freshly cut lemon) and lemon oil can calm pregnancy nausea. Ginger, in tea, ginger ale, ginger snaps, or capsules, can also help. The BRAT diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast and tea) is effective for some. Fruits and vegetables high in water content such as tomatoes, melons, grapefruit, strawberries, lettuce, spinach, zucchini, and grapes, can provide relief. Some women afflicted with pregnancy sickness find that eating dry crackers in the morning helps. Avoiding an empty stomach and eating 5 or 6 small meals per day is often a good strategy.
Prenatal vitamins can pose some additional challenges for mothers experiencing pregnancy sickness All vitamin/mineral formulas have potential for stomach irritation and nausea, and this can obviously be significant for someone already dealing with pregnancy sickness. One way to help here is to avoid taking prenatal vitamins on an empty stomach. There can be additional impact related to the specific ingredients in the formula, some of which may aggravate the problem while others can help. Iron is a common ingredient that may cause more nausea. Some forms of iron, namely ferrous fumarate and ferrous gluconate, can be better tolerated than the commonly used ferrous sulfate. Special micro-coating can also help reduce the irritation that iron may cause. An ingredient that can help alleviate nausea issues is vitamin B6 in amounts of at least 25 mg per serving.
The current trend toward including the essential fatty acids DHA and EPA in prenatal vitamin formulas can lead to some specific problems with regard to nausea. If these fatty acids become oxidized (rancid) they develop a “fishy” odor and taste. Rancid fatty acids also tend to irritate the stomach, which can result in nausea and “fishy burp,” something that mothers with pregnancy sickness definitely want to avoid. Advanced purification and processing of the fatty acids, along with durable shells for the prenatal formula will essentially eliminate these issues. Some premium prenatal formulas even incorporate lemon oil (see above) in the shells.
Pregnancy sickness is a common downside to an experience that is usually positive, and its impact varies a lot from person to person, and even pregnancy to pregnancy. Trying all of the approaches discussed and using the ones that help your specific situation most is the best way to deal with this challenge.