Morning Sickness Symptoms and Causes
Morning Sickness Symptoms: What to Expect During Pregnancy
June 27, 2021

Morning Sickness Symptoms: What to Expect During Pregnancy

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Morning Sickness Symptoms: What to Expect During Pregnancy.
Morning Sickness Symptoms: What to Expect During Pregnancy

Morning sickness is probably the most infamous symptom of pregnancy. And even though morning sickness symptoms are pretty well known, they can also throw you for a loop. After all, how do you know whether it’s pregnancy making you feel sick or something else? And what sort of nausea and vomiting is considered normal when you are pregnant? Also, how exactly are you supposed to get through the day when you’re constantly getting sick anyway? We’re here to give you answers on all the morning sickness symptoms and how to deal with it.

When Does Morning Sickness Start?

It’s common for morning sickness sufferers to start to feel icky around 6 weeks pregnant. But for some, it takes a little longer before they begin a strict diet of saltines and ginger ale and storing barf bags in the glove compartment. Morning sickness tends to peak in the first trimester. “Morning sickness, fatigue and breast tenderness are the most common symptoms of early pregnancy,” notes Dr. Kim Langdon, MD, OBGYN.

How Long Does Morning Sickness Last?

Unfortunately, morning sickness symptoms can last for weeks or even months. “Symptoms usually start around 6 weeks and peak at 9 or 10 weeks and then get gradually better,” says Dr. Sarah Yamaguchi, MD, FACOG, OBGYN. Each pregnancy is different though and your sickness could last longer or shorter than others. According to the American College of Obstetricians, morning sickness typically goes away by the start of the second trimester (14 weeks pregnant) for most pregnant people. And, though the name suggests you might only feel awful in the morning, many people experience nausea and vomiting all day.

If your morning sickness lingers after 14 weeks pregnant—or if you can’t keep any food or liquids down at all—tell your healthcare provider. These are signs of hyperemesis gravidarum, a more severe condition that is basically morning sickness symptoms on steroids. HG can cause dehydration, weight loss and electrolyte imbalance and can get pretty serious, so it should be treated by a healthcare provider.

What Causes Morning Sickness?

Morning sickness is typically blamed on the hormones that flood your system when you become pregnant. It has also been linked to proteins released by the placenta. But doctors don’t truly know the purpose of all that unpleasantness.

One theory is that morning sickness symptoms are evolution’s way of preventing pregnant people from eating potentially harmful foods while the fetus is most vulnerable.

Some doctors say morning sickness symptoms are a sign of healthy pregnancy, which is a teensy bit reassuring, although there are plenty of healthy babies whose parents didn’t get the queasies. Some people are just more vulnerable to getting nausea, so they’re more likely to have morning sickness symptoms.

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Morning Sickness Symptoms and Signs

Morning sickness is nausea, vomiting or a combination of the two, caused by pregnancy and can be a really challenging hurdle for pregnant people, says Ana Genao-Tanney, antenatal and postpartum doula. Morning sickness is also “a misnomer,” she explains, “[as it] strike at any hour of the day. “It can often be accompanied by food aversions where you can’t stand the smell or taste of a certain food,” she tells us.

What is morning sickness like? Well, it can be different for different women. Some just have mild queasiness here and there for a couple weeks. Others have full-blown nausea and are throwing up, unable to keep any food down. There’s definitely a range in severity of morning symptoms, and it’s hard to predict what your unique experience will be like. Some people even have different morning sickness symptom experiences from one pregnancy to the other.

If you’re not yet feeling sick, count your lucky stars—you could even be one of the lucky one-in-five pregnant people who doesn’t get morning sickness.

Usually, you’ll know you’re experiencing morning sickness symptoms because you won’t have other signs of illness or disease.

Signs it’s not morning sickness include:

  • Late start: If you have nausea or vomiting that starts after 9 weeks pregnant, it might not be morning sickness at all. Look into other potential causes.
  • Pain: If you also have stomach pain or abdominal pain or tenderness, you could have another problem, such as food poisoning, a stomach bug or an ulcer.
  • Fever: A fever is a sign of illness, not a morning sickness sign.
  • Headache: Same goes for headache. If you have one, there might be some other explanation for your nausea, though headaches can be a pregnancy symptom (confusing, we know!).
  • Swelling in the neck: Thyroid problems can sometimes cause nausea. Your thyroid gland is in the front of your neck, so take note if you’re swollen there.

If you have any of the above symptoms, talk to your healthcare provider just to be sure.

How to Treat Morning Sickness

We’re not promising you’re going to feel like a million bucks, but typical morning sickness symptoms can be eased using a few smart strategies. You’ll have to troubleshoot a bit to see what survival plan works best for you, but we recommend trying any and all of these:

  • Keep food in your nightstand: Really! Eating a few crackers or a granols bar first thing in the morning can help settle your stomach before you even get out bed.
  • Eat often: And really, don’t let your belly get empty if at all possible, because that’s when morning sickness symptoms tend to strike.
  • Keep meals small: Don’t overwhelm that tummy with tons of food, even if you finally have your appetite back and want to take advantage. You may be less likely to aggravate your digestive system if you eat often but in small amounts. Also, sip drinks throughout the day; don’t guzzle them down. Some people find sparkling waters help ease the queasiness. “Eating small frequent meals, staying hydrated and avoiding foods that trigger an aversion are common best practices,” explains Genao-Taney.
  • Go with it: We get the guilt of not wanting healthy foods (like salad!) and just wanting to subsist on grilled cheese for now. But if all you can stomach is grilled cheese, then just eat the grilled cheese. “I tell my patients to try to be as healthy as they can as far as activity and diet,” says Dr. Yamaguchi, “but in the first trimester, some people have to eat junk food just to get by and that’s just how it is.” Focus on getting food into your body for now. When you feel better, you can concentrate more on balanced nutrition.
  • Experiment with carbs vs. proteins: Some pregnant people find that starchy foods like crackers and chips curb their morning sickness symptoms. Others get more relief from protein, like nuts and poultry.
  • Try different flavors: Ginger, lemon and watermelon are just a few flavors (and scents) that help some women soothe morning sickness symptoms. Try them fresh, or stock up drinks, candies or lollipops with the flavors that help you most.
  • Avoid offending smells and flavors: Can’t stand the sight or smell of certain foods? Stay far, far away.

If your morning sickness symptoms are severe, your healthcare provider might prescribe:

  • Vitamin B6 supplements: “Taking vitamin B6 supplements could help,” says Dr. Yamaguchi. These are considered safe to take and have shown to ease morning sickness symptoms in medical studies.
  • Doxylamine: This antihistamine is typically used to treat allergies but may also help with morning sickness symptoms.
  • Anti-nausea medication: There are some anti-nausea drugs that are considered safe to take during pregnancy and may be worth taking if the morning sickness symptoms are interfering with your ability to get through the day. “Medicines like diclegis [could] help with morning sickness and [there are other] stronger medicines that [can] treat vomiting,” explains Dr. Yamaguchi. Talk over all the pros and cons with your healthcare provider.

Remember: Don’t take anything—whether it’s a supplement or an OTC or prescription med—unless your healthcare provider gives the OK. And hang in there. You may feel terrible, but your baby’s doing just fine on the inside—and the morning sickness will end eventually.

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