Morning sickness affects many women in the early stages of pregnancy, usually ceasing around the end of the first trimester. For most women, morning sickness begins in the first five weeks of pregnancy, and may continue until 8-15 weeks after conception, although in some cases they may persist for longer, and may even last for the entire pregnancy. In approximately one-third of sufferers, symptoms are severe enough to require time off work.
Morning sickness is mainly characterised by nausea (with or without vomiting), a loss of appetite and psychological effects such as depression and anxiety. Vomiting may also cause muscular pain in the abdominal region. Symptoms are most likely to occur in the morning, but despite its name it can also occur at other times of the day. Hyperemesis gravidarum is a severe form of morning sickness that affects only 0.5-2% of women and can have severe consequences if it is not appropriately treated. Its symptoms include persistent vomiting, dehydration and weight loss, putting the baby at risk of malnourishment.
The specific cause of morning sickness has not been determined, but it is believed to be due to a combination of factors. This may include the hormonal fluctuations that take place in the early phases of pregnancy, including high oestrogen levels; blood pressure changes, especially low blood pressure; and changes to the way the body metabolises carbohydrates (which may in turn affect blood sugar levels). Although it is relatively common for women with morning sickness to feel anxious or have a low mood, it is a physical condition, and should not be considered to be psychological.
Some women are worried that the action of vomiting may threaten their unborn baby. Vomiting may strain the abdominal muscles and cause localised aching, but the physical mechanics of vomiting won’t harm the baby. The foetus is perfectly cushioned inside its sac of amniotic fluid. Mild episodes of morning sickness are not harmful to your baby, however if your symptoms are so severe that you become dehydrated or unable to tolerate and metabolise food it is important that you seek medical care in order to ensure your baby receives enough nutrients.
There are some supportive measures for mild, self-limiting episodes of morning sickness that can be followed. However, they do not replace medical advice. Make sure to rest until the nausea or vomiting have passed. During an episode of vomiting, drink clear fluids, such as water, and avoid solid food until you are feeling better. If you cannot tolerate water, try sucking on small pieces of ice. In order to replace any fluid loss it’s also advisable to drink plenty of fluids at times of the day when you are not vomiting. An electrolyte replacement formula, such as Hydralyte Liquid and Gastrolyte Sachets, may help to reduce the risk of dehydration. Once you feel up to eating, start with foods such as toast, crackers and rice, and avoid heavy, fatty or spicy foods. Lastly, don’t take pharmaceutical medicines or natural remedies of any kind without discussing their suitability with your doctor first.