It's a challenge to embrace your pregnancy joyfully when you're feeling nauseous or vomiting all day. You're not alone. Most pregnancies are accompanied by nausea, especially in the 1st trimester. Practitioners call it "morning sickness" because that's when it's apt to hit you hardest.
Why the tricky stomach? The rapid rise in pregnancy hormones is to blame, along with an enhanced sense of smell and sensitivity to odors. (That's why your favorite Thai restaurant may now send you scurrying to the opposite side of the street the minute you sniff the curry.)
Although it might feel like you're hurting the baby with all of this vomiting, morning sickness rarely has harmful effects. Your baby is too small for you to require extra calories yet, and your multivitamin can cover your nutritional needs (assuming that you can keep it down). There's an upside to morning sickness too. Scientists at Cornell University recently examined thousands of pregnancies and reported that morning sickness typically peaks between weeks 6 and 18 and that women who suffer from morning sickness have a higher chance of having healthy pregnancies.
- Foods that work for you. You may not feel like eating at all right now, but an empty stomach will only make you feel worse because morning sickness can be exacerbated by low blood sugar. Nibble on crackers before you get up in the morning, snack on salty foods, and eat a small complex carbohydrate snack such as a whole grain muffin before bedtime so that your stomach will feel less queasy. Some women find that eating salty or tart foods, like potato chips and lemonade, can help alleviate nausea. Watermelon may also help. Nobody knows why certain foods work better than others, so follow this plan: If you crave a food and can keep it down, eat it. At the same time, avoid foods or smells that trigger your nausea. It might also help to eat food that is cold or at room temperature because that will cut down on odors.
- Liquids. If you're vomiting often, increase your fluid intake to ten 8-ounce cups a day; that's two more than the recommended eight cups a day. Alternate watermelon ice cubes and freezer pops with glasses of water and ice chips if you're having trouble drinking enough water. Italian ice or lemon slush will also help you hydrate. Try to drink fluids only between meals; if you must drink during meals, limit the amount to keep your stomach from feeling overly full. You can also use a sports drink to replace lost electrolytes. If you're taking a vitamin supplement with iron, talk to your doctor about skipping that vitamin until you're feeling better, because iron is tough on a stomach that's already queasy.
- Remedies. Unisom, an over-the-counter sleep aid, contains an antinausea ingredient, and most practitioners agree that it's safe to take during pregnancy. The American Medical Association (AMA) has approved acupuncture to treat nausea associated with pregnancy. For short-term relief you can also purchase BioBands, which are acupressure bracelets available at most pharmacies. Some women swear that ginger eases nausea, so look for ginger candies, drink ginger tea, or find a ginger ale made from real ginger.
Test out this easy acupressure technique too: Press three fingertips gently but firmly on the base of your palm, just above where you'd take your pulse on your wrist. Breathe deeply and press that area with your fingertips for a minute or more, gradually increasing the pressure until you feel slight discomfort. The sensation should be the same as the feel of a mini-massage.
- Nausea kit. In case you're seized by a bout of nausea in an unexpected place, keep an emergency kit handy: plastic bags, wet wipes, napkins, water for rinsing your mouth, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and breath mints. And remember: This too shall pass.
Severe morning sickness
It's rare for morning sickness to become a serious concern. However, if you can't keep down any food or fluids for 24 hours, are steadily losing weight, or become dehydrated, it's time to call your practitioner. These symptoms can be signs of hyperemesis gravidarum, which literally means "excessive vomiting in pregnancy." It can cause dehydration severe enough for you to lose minerals crucial to you and your baby.
This condition is manageable once diagnosed and rarely has any serious long-term effects. Your caregiver will probably put you on intravenous (IV) fluids and check your electrolyte levels to make sure you have no underlying disease that might be provoking these frequent purges. Depending on your condition, you might even be hospitalized for a few days so that you can stay on antinausea medication and IV fluids. Most women feel much better after they're rehydrated and are able to use medication to stop vomiting.
Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.
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