Opinion: What can you eat to help ease 'morning' sickness in pregnancy?

August 29, 2016 by Rebecca Charlotte Reynolds, The Conversation
Ginger may help milder levels of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. Credit: rebeccacharlotte.com.au, Author provided

Nausea and vomiting in pregnancy is mistakenly known as "morning" sickness. Mistakenly, because it doesn't occur only in the morning. One Canadian study reported 80% of its sample of pregnant women experienced nausea that lasted all day, compared to only 1.8% who reported it occurring just in the morning. However, half of pregnant women in a British study did vomit in the morning, between 6am and 12pm.

The exact cause of the and in is unknown, although various factors and hypotheses have been suggested.

The most popular evolutionary hypothesis linked to nutrition seems to be that nausea and vomiting may have protected pregnant mothers and their unborn children against potentially harmful substances in food. Imagine you're a pregnant, hairy woman who feels too sick to try that new, delicious-looking plant that has just started to grow on your cavestep.

Negative effects of pregnancy nausea on mum can include stress, anxiety and depression, an inability to work, malnutrition, dehydration, contribution to constipation, decreased quality of life and irritability, increased sleep disturbances and lowered mood.

What should you eat?

It can be hard to eat a balanced diet when you are suffering from nausea and vomiting. You may only feel like oranges, hot chips, lemonade, ice blocks and pizza.

It's best not to worry too much about this in the short term (beginning mid-pregnancy), as you can catch up with better nutrition when you start to feel more human. It's better to eat anything than nothing at all.

It's important to note some foods should be avoided during pregnancy. It's also important to note more reflux-associated nausea and vomiting that may occur later in pregnancy comes with its own list of nutrition tips. These can be different to those for earlier nausea and vomiting.

The tips include eating smaller meals; not eating late at night; not consuming alcohol, fizzy drinks or other reflux-promoting foods and drinks such as spicy or fatty foods and peppermint; and chewing gum.

Even if you only manage to eat some chips and drink lemonade while you suffer from early nausea and vomiting, are there certain things you can eat or drink – or nutrition supplements you can take – that may help ease your symptoms?

There are lots of reviews and guidelines on the nutritional management of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. But there doesn't seem to be enough high-quality evidence to be able to confidently recommend any particular nutrition strategy widely.

There are common nutrition practices that may help and are widely used by women all over the world. Many have good anecdotal support but few have been investigated in scientific studies. That doesn't mean they don't work, though. Some of the common tips in the literature are:

  • identify and avoid things that you find triggering
  • avoid having an empty stomach
  • keep some bland food like dry crackers by your bedside and have a few before getting up in the morning
  • eat small amounts of food often and avoid large meals
  • eat at times when you feel less nauseous (although you will likely have to force yourself at times to eat when you feel nauseous, as it may be the only thing that makes you feel better)
  • avoid spicy and fatty foods, which can irritate the stomach and/or decrease the rate of stomach emptying
  • avoid foods with strong smells (your sense of smell can become very heightened while pregnant and some smells may make you feel sick – including food smells)
  • cold or frozen drinks or foods are often better tolerated
  • have foods and fluids at separate times to decrease the volume in your stomach
  • drink small amounts of fluid often, but try to have about two litres daily (especially if you're vomiting)herbal teas (such as ginger) may help.

There has been more research into certain nutrition supplements. These also may improve nausea and vomiting symptoms – although the evidence is not yet robust enough for wide application:

If your nausea and vomiting are more severe, then the above strategies may do absolutely nothing for you. You may need to move onto pharmaceutical and other management options. These include the anti-nausea drug ondansetron, which evidence suggests is unlikely to have any severe adverse effects on baby – unlike thalidomide in times gone by.

Even though almost three-quarters of Australian women may use at least one kind of "complementary therapy" during pregnancy, such as acupressure travel bands or acupuncture, the evidence for most is inconclusive.

Explore further: ACOG: Best evidence for rx of nausea, vomiting in pregnancy

Related Stories

ACOG: Best evidence for rx of nausea, vomiting in pregnancy

August 20, 2015
(HealthDay)—In a practice bulletin published in the September issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology, recommendations are presented for the management of nausea and vomiting of pregnancy.

Study finds no evidence linking anti-nausea drug to birth defects

May 9, 2016
Women suffering from extreme morning sickness often take Zofran (ondansetron) to combat their debilitating nausea and vomiting. However, two studies have found that the drug may increase risk of heart defects and cleft palate ...

Personalized anti-nausea therapy better for cancer patients

November 12, 2015
A new research study led by Dr. Mark Clemons, oncologist and associate cancer research scientist at The Ottawa Hospital, has shown that a personalized approach to treating one of the most expected side-effects of chemotherapy ...

New treatment developed to prevent nausea, vomiting caused by chemotherapy

July 20, 2016
A drug that blocks neurotransmitters could reduce nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy, research co-authored by a Sanford Health physician and published in the New England Journal of Medicine finds.

FDA: Akynzeo approved for chemo-related nausea / vomiting

October 11, 2014
(HealthDay)—The combination drug Akynzeo (netupitant and palonosetron) has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat nausea and vomiting among people undergoing chemotherapy, the agency said Friday ...

Preemptive treatment of severe morning sickness decreases suffering for moms-to-be

February 11, 2013
`In a study to be presented on February 14 at the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine's annual meeting, The Pregnancy Meeting, in San Francisco, California, researchers will present data showing the effectiveness of preemptive ...

Recommended for you

Undiagnosed STIs can increase negative PMS symptoms

September 17, 2018
Women that have undiagnosed sexually transmitted infections may be at greater risk of experiencing negative premenstrual symptoms (PMS), according to new Oxford University research.

High dose folic acid does not prevent pre-eclampsia in high risk women

September 13, 2018
Taking high dose folic acid supplements in later pregnancy (beyond the first trimester) does not prevent pre-eclampsia in women at high risk for this condition, finds a randomised controlled trial published by The BMJ today.

Study finds air purifiers may benefit fetal growth

September 12, 2018
A new study led by SFU health sciences researchers Prabjit Barn and Ryan Allen reveals fetal growth may improve if pregnant women use portable air purifiers inside their homes.

Delayed childbearing is a growing source of multiple births, study shows

September 12, 2018
Starting in the 1980s, the number of multiple births—twins, triplets, quadruplets and quintuplets—steadily increased from about 20 sets per 1,000 live births to almost 35 sets per 1,000 live births in the 2010s.

Transforming pregnancy research with a smartphone app

September 5, 2018
For years, pregnant women have been underrepresented in biomedical research. Current treatments, interventions and guidelines do a poor job of taking into consideration the diverse characteristics of all pregnant women.

For women undergoing IVF, is fresh or frozen embryo transfer best?

August 21, 2018
The world's first baby born via in-vitro fertilization turned 40 years old this summer. Still, after four decades, IVF is a relatively new field with ongoing debate on how to get the best results for families who have placed ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.