Around the eleventh week of my second pregnancy, after yet another mad dash to the bathroom, I plopped down on the couch next to my 4-year-old daughter, Ellie. "Wow, Mom, you've had the stomach bug forever!" she said. I smiled weakly, wishing that morning sickness came and went as quickly as the stomach flu. Instead, for weeks on end, it seemed like practically everything made my insides flip.
My one small comfort was knowing that I wouldn't feel like this forever; morning sickness almost always subsides by the sixteenth week of pregnancy.
Though no one knows for sure what causes morning sickness, experts point to increased levels of hormones traveling through a pregnant woman's body. "These hormones are thought to stimulate a woman's brain, making her more susceptible to queasiness," says Nicole Yost, M.D., an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, in Dallas. Other researchers theorize that morning sickness evolved to prevent pregnant women from eating foods (such as meat and poultry) that are most likely to contain microorganisms and pathogens -- contaminants that have the potential to harm a developing fetus. Certain factors seem to increase a woman's risk for morning sickness, including being overweight, having a naturally sensitive stomach, or carrying multiples. "We've also found that if you have morning sickness with your first pregnancy, you're likely to suffer from it with each subsequent baby," Dr. Yost adds.
Even if nausea temporarily keeps you from eating a balanced diet, there's usually no reason to fear for your baby's health. "During the first trimester, a baby's body is focused not on growth but on organ formation, which requires few additional nutrients," explains Bonnie Dattel, M.D., associate director of maternal and fetal medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School, in Norfolk. "You'll be back to eating normally by the time his nutritional needs increase."
Though there's no surefire way to prevent morning sickness, some small changes to your diet can help you feel a lot better: Eat five or six small meals a day rather than three big ones, keep crackers on your nightstand to nosh on at bedtime and before you get up in the morning, and listen to your body's cravings.
Most women opt for a bland diet of bagels, applesauce, and bananas, but your stomach may tell you otherwise. For four straight weeks, the only thing I could stand for lunch was a plain Wendy's hamburger.
Consuming liquids between meals instead of with them worked wonders for Kelly Young, of Indianapolis. "I really missed washing down my food with a glass of water, but it was worth it to avoid feeling sick after eating," she says. Sipping tea or sweet, carbonated beverages can also quell an agitated stomach. Or try drinking lemonade. "Some pregnant women suffer from profuse salivation, which can stimulate vomiting," Dr. Yost explains. "Tart beverages help decrease the production of saliva."
Nondietary triggers like excessive motion and loud noises can make morning sickness worse. As best you can, steer clear of strong smells and get lots of fresh air: Take a short walk outside during your lunch break, or sleep with a window left slightly open. Moving at a snail's pace helps too. "Don't bound out of bed in the morning," Dr. Yost says. "Give yourself extra time to sit up, and slowly get ready for your day."
Managing your stress also makes a big difference. "Tension exacerbates morning sickness," Dr. Dattel warns.Recent research has shown that acupressure can also provide some relief. Wristbands, such as over-the-counter Sea-Bands or the prescription ReliefBand, work by interrupting nausea signals to the brain. "The wristbands didn't completely cure me, but I felt better -- and vomited a lot less," says Jenny Hansell, of Sharon, Connecticut.
Another option: ginger. Studies have found that ginger capsules can help reduce morning-sickness symptoms. Since some brands of ginger ale don't contain enough real ginger to be beneficial, talk with your doctor or pharmacist about ginger candies. Or try making your own ginger tea (after checking with your doctor): Cut two thick, dime-size slices of fresh ginger (available at your grocery store), then steep them in boiling water for five to ten minutes. Remove slices, then add brown sugar, honey, or lemon to taste.
Though morning sickness is rarely harmful, about one in 100 women suffer from hyperemesis gravidarum -- a condition in which pregnancy-induced vomiting is so severe that it causes dehydration and weight loss. Call your doctor immediately if you become dehydrated (you don't produce urine, or urine is dark yellow), you feel dizzy or faint, your heart races, or you vomit blood. In most cases, the condition can be successfully treated with intravenous fluids and antivomit medications. "As long as you get prompt treatment, you and your baby will be just fine," says Nicole Yost, M.D.