Morning Sickness: What It Is, Symptoms, Causes & Remedies

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Medically Reviewed By:
Mark Arredondo, M.D.

Morning sickness is a common pregnancy issue that doesn’t just happen in the morning.

An obstetrician-gynecologist breaks down what morning sickness is, the most common symptoms and causes, and what you can do to get some relief.

What is morning sickness?

Morning sickness is a spectrum of disorders that can range from nausea alone to severe vomiting, said Dr. Sudheer Jayaprabhu, an ob-gyn with Christus St. Michael Hospital in Texarkana, Texas.

The good news is that while mild morning sickness occurs in up to 90% of pregnancies, it does not hurt your fetus in any way. It may even be a good sign:

  • It may indicate that all is well with you and your fetus
  • Morning sickness might be related to a lower risk of miscarriage
  • Your symptoms probably show that the placenta is making all the hormones needed for a healthy pregnancy

Morning sickness symptoms

While it varies from patient to patient, here are some common morning sickness symptoms:

  • Nausea and vomiting any time of the day
  • Dizziness and headaches
  • Gastric reflux (stomach contents coming up into esophagus)
  • Heartburn

When does morning sickness start?

Morning sickness symptoms usually begin about five to six weeks after your last menstrual period and peak around nine weeks, Jayaprabhu said.

When does morning sickness end?

While morning sickness usually subsides by 16 to 20 weeks, this isn’t always the case.

“In about 15% to 20% of patients, it can continue until the third trimester," Jayaprabhu said. "Sometimes, it can continue until delivery.” That's true in about 5% of patients.

What causes morning sickness?

Morning sickness is usually caused by hormonal changes that lead to decreased stomach emptying. Factors that make symptoms worse include an increased sense of smell and gastric reflux.

You may be at higher risk for morning sickness if:

  • You're having multiples (twins or more)
  • You had severe morning sickness before
  • You get motion sickness (car sick)
  • You suffer from migraine headaches
  • Your mother or sisters have experienced morning sickness
  • You’ve felt sick when taking contraceptives that contain estrogen
  • It's your first pregnancy
  • You are obese (BMI of 30 or more)
  • You're experiencing increased stress

Morning sickness remedies

Self-care for morning sickness symptoms

For nausea with occasional vomiting, Jayaprabhu suggests these steps:

  • Eat frequent small meals
  • Avoid trigger foods
  • Eat low-fat, high fiber foods
  • Drink liquids at least 30 minutes before or after solid foods
  • Drink cold, clear and carbonated or sour drinks
  • Try ginger-ale, ginger tea or a ginger lollipop
  • Drink small amounts at a time
  • Use a straw
  • Brush your teeth after a meal and spit out your saliva
  • Take your prenatal vitamin with a snack

Morning sickness medicine

There are some effective morning sickness medicines. Many experts recommend vitamin B6 and Unisom (doxalamine). A combination of the two (Diclegis) can be taken. Check with your physician before taking any medications.

Although it may be tempting, do not use cannabis, Jayaprabhu emphasized, as it may harm the fetus.

Living with morning sickness

Here are more tips for living with morning sickness:

  • Keep your morning slow and calm
  • Avoid triggers such as food odors or other smells
  • Avoid cigarette smoke
  • Get enough sleep and decrease stress when you can
  • Try wearing acupressure wrist bands, which are available at pharmacies
  • Eat a few soda crackers before you get out of bed in the morning

Sometimes, women suffer from a severe form of morning sickness called hyperemesis gravidarum. It may become impossible for you to keep anything down and other prescriptions might be needed. If those don’t work, you might need to be hospitalized to protect your health and that of your fetus. In the hospital, labs will be done and you may receive intravenous fluids and medications.

Call your ob-gyn if you have any of these signs and symptoms of dehydration:

  • You don’t have much urine and it is dark in color
  • You can’t urinate (pee)
  • You can’t keep liquids down
  • You feel dizzy or faint when you stand up
  • Your heart is racing

While morning sickness is normally a mild discomfort during pregnancy, in rare cases it can become a more serious problem requiring medications and even hospitalization. Knowing what is and isn’t normal will help assure that you, and your fetus, remain healthy.

References

Sudheer Jayaprabhu, MD, obstretrician-gynecologist, Christus St. Michael Hospital, Texarkana, Texas

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: Morning Sickness: Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy

National Library of Medicine – MedlinePlus: Morning Sickness

National Health Service, U.K.: Vomiting and Morning Sickness

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