"Despite the name, morning sickness can strike at any time," explains Shari Brasner, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in New York City, and author of Advice from a Pregnant Obstetricia (Hyperion). Symptoms include nausea and/or vomiting, which can start as early as 6 weeks and typically subside between 11 and 13 weeks.
Experts are unsure exactly why 40 to 50 percent of women get morning sickness. Some blame it on high levels of hormones, and others say genes might play a role (so if your mom or sister has escaped it, you might too). Another theory (although unproven) is that morning sickness protects an expectant woman by making her nauseous and averse to anything that could be harmful if she eats it.
"Though food may be the last thing on your mind, the acid in an empty stomach may trigger nausea," says Dr. Brasner. Dry, salty foods like crackers and pretzels tend to be soothing. Keep some by your bed, and eat a handful before you get up. "This way, you have something in your stomach to absorb any acids before you even move," says Jill Maura Rabin, MD, associate professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology and women's health at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in New York City.
A pregnant woman's heightened sense of smell can also bring on queasiness. A good preventive tactic that really worked for me: carrying a lemon wedge in a plastic baggie at all times. If I confronted a bothersome smell, I breathed in the citrusy scent. The taste of lemon can also provide relief: "I had morning sickness with both my sons, and citrus-flavored Preggie Pops [lollipops] helped," says Heidi Boortz, of Valdosta, Georgia.
Peppermint and ginger teas are known to settle the stomach. "Though it's not clear why it works, hot chocolate is another option," says Dr. Rabin.
These have a small plastic button that puts pressure on a wrist point, a technique said to relieve nausea. "Some studies have shown that they're effective," says Dr. Rabin. They don't work for everyone, but they're worth a try; they have no side effects, and a pair costs less than $10 at the drugstore.
"I was incredibly nauseous when pregnant with my first child," says Kimberly Whitfill, a mother of three from New York City. Whitfill, a midwife, researched options and found a study showing that the combination of salty and tart foods can settle the stomach. "It worked for me!" she says. "I ate chips and sour cherries for weeks." Other good combos include lemonade and pretzels.
Staying hydrated is essential when you're pregnant, yet many women get morning-sickness symptoms just from the gulping motion of drinking. "If that's you, suck on ice chips and Popsicles," says Dr. Brasner. "You'll stay hydrated without activating your gag reflex."
Keeping meals neutral in terms of taste and temperature may also help prevent nausea. Skip foods that are very hot, cold, or spicy. Dry toast, plain pasta, and bagels are good options.
If you feel too sick to break a sweat, then don't. But working out was the answer for Tracey Mallett, a mother of two from South Pasadena, California. "Gentle exercise like walking, using the elliptical trainer, or Pilates with deep breathing relaxed me and was the only thing that helped my morning sickness."
Try these additional resources to help you say goodbye to morning sickness symptoms: