Nausea and Vomiting in Pregnancy Is Not Just Morning Sickness

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A study published earlier this year has validated what pregnant people worldwide already knew: nausea and vomiting in pregnancy doesn’t just happen in the morning. Read on to learn more about this study, why it’s important, and what you can do if your pregnancy is making you sick.

The new study, the full title of which is “Nausea and vomiting in pregnancy is not just ‘morning sickness’: data from a prospective cohort study in the UK,” was published in January in the British Journal of General Practice, a journal focused on bringing research into medical practice. In it, a group of researchers led by Roger Gadsby, a teaching fellow at Warwick Medical School in the United Kingdom, followed 256 people who conceived between May 2014 and February 2017. The average age of the subjects was 30.4 years, and most of them were European and white.

The researchers asked the pregnant subjects to keep a detailed diary of their symptoms, in which they reported whether they were experiencing either nausea or vomiting each hour of the day for the first 60 days of their pregnancies. Most of the women kept track of their symptoms most faithfully from days 30 to 60 of pregnancy. They also provided daily urine samples, which allowed the researchers to determine when ovulation had occurred.

At least one of the participants vomited or experienced nausea throughout the entire 24-hour day. The most common time for people to experience these symptoms was the morning, but between 7 am and 10 pm, nearly two-thirds of the participants had symptoms at different times. Nausea was present throughout the day from weeks two through seven. Vomiting was most common between 7 am and 1 pm, though in some weeks of pregnancy, vomiting also peaked around 8 in the evening. Some participants’ symptoms peaked midday.

This study is important because it demonstrates that “morning sickness” is inaccurate. Nausea and vomiting are both common in pregnancy and can happen at any time of day. In a press release for the paper that the University of Warwick released in June, Gadsby said that “if a pregnant woman experiences sickness in the afternoon, she may feel that this is unusual and wrong, or if she experiences no vomiting but feels nauseated all day she might think she is not covered by the term ‘morning sickness.’ And those women who experience severe symptoms feel it trivializes the condition.”

Nausea and vomiting can have an intense negative effect on your pregnancy and your life. In severe instances, depression, poor performance at work or in caretaking activities, and feelings of hopelessness are common. The most serious cases warrant a diagnosis of hyperemesis gravidarum and can lead to hospitalization of the pregnant person.

The next time someone asks you if you’ve had any morning sickness, feel free to tell them that actually you have all-day sickness, also known as nausea and vomiting of pregnancy, instead. But what can you do to manage your symptoms, which can truly be some of the worst that pregnancy has to offer?

First, make sure that you’re hydrated and well-nourished. It’s easier said than done, of course. If all you want to do is puke, it’s not easy to get all of the fluids that you need. You can try getting creative. If plain water makes you feel ill, try fizzy mineral water or a fruity seltzer instead. Juice, sports drinks, and smoothies might also work better for you than plain water. Smoothies have the added advantage of providing some nourishment without requiring any chewing—something that always made me feel sicker.

Second, ask your care provider for suggestions. Some over the counter medications, particularly the antihistamine doxylamine succinate and vitamin B6, are appropriate for use in pregnancy and can really help alleviate symptoms. Check in with your doctor or midwife about their recommendations for dosage. If your nausea and vomiting is severe, there are other prescription medications that your provider might recommend.

Third, try to remember that nothing lasts forever. Most nausea and vomiting abates by week 20, and even people who are sick throughout their whole pregnancies eventually have their babies and feel better. In the mean time you can also check out these two blog posts from The Pulse that share strategies and natural remedies that might help with your symptoms.

Abby Olena
Dr. Abby Olena has a PhD in Biological Sciences from Vanderbilt University. She lives with her husband and children in North Carolina, where she writes about science and parenting, produces a conversational podcast, and teaches prenatal yoga.

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