Picture this: A woman drops her breakfast pancakes mid-bite and rushes off to the bathroom, returning sometime later looking somewhat flushed and exhausted. She heads off to work still feeling a bit delicate, but bounces back to her old self by lunchtime. The pattern repeats itself for a few days until everything adds up and the woman realizes she must be pregnant.
Have I just accurately described every movie and TV show you've ever seen featuring a newly-pregnant character? Thought so. Morning sickness is an absolute classic pregnancy symptom. Interestingly, it's also completely inaccurate! While morning sickness alone can occur for some women, a more accurate description for this rather unpleasant side effect of pregnancy is "morning, noon and night sickness". You have been warned!
Although around half of all pregnant women experience nausea and vomiting during pregnancy, it remains unclear as to how the unlucky 50% are selected. Various old wives tales exist which suggest that the baby's gender or health determines how sick the Mom-to-be will become, but, as with all well-known pregnancy legends, there is no evidence to back this up. The long and short of it is, if you're sick, you're sick. And just because you escaped this symptom during your first, second, third pregnancies, don't be fooled into thinking you'll be so lucky next time!
Exactly what causes morning sickness (we'll keep calling it that for ease) is one of pregnancy's greatest mysteries. Doctors and scientists are yet to discover a definite cause, although they have settled on a couple of likely explanations; hormones and toxins.
As we all know, the amount of hormones in a woman's body goes through the roof when she gets pregnant. Whether it's oestrogen or human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG) or any of the other chemicals which go into complete overdrive during pregnancy, one thing's for sure; the body just isn't used to coping with such high levels. Oestrogen is essential for stimulating the milk ducts in the breasts and ensuring good blood flow to the placenta. The placenta produces hCG which maintains a healthy and thick uterine wall for protecting the baby. Both hormone levels rise rapidly from the date of conception, reaching peak points somewhere between the eighth and eleventh week of pregnancy, coinciding with the time that morning sickness often starts to ease up.
The other likely cause is that morning sickness is simply the body's natural defense system being put to good use. Depending on how familiar you are with this subject, you may have heard that pregnant women suffering with sickness tend to crave dry, plain foods such as crackers or toast. Researchers believe this is the body's way of protecting both Mother and baby. By encouraging the Mom-to-be to eat "safe" foods and keeping her away from meats, cheeses and eggs for example, which all have the potential to cause food poisoning, the baby is protected from toxins which could have devastating effects. And by encouraging vomiting, the body is ensuring that, no matter what has been eaten, nothing can harm the baby. It's thought that unborn babies are most vulnerable to outside effects in the first three months of pregnancy, again coinciding with the time that morning sickness usually disappears.
Is There A Cure?
In a word, no. However, many women do manage to find a remedy that reduces their symptoms, and some do find that these remedies stop the sickness altogether, it's just different for different women. Some of the most common techniques are to eat little and often and to nibble on some ginger biscuits, or even some crystallized ginger. Eating many small meals throughout the day can keep blood sugar levels up and reduce any feelings of nausea, whereas ginger products calm the digestive system, reducing the likelihood of vomiting. Low blood sugar and an upset digestive system will be at their worst in the morning when you've had a number of hours since your last meal, which is perhaps why some women experience sickness more in the mornings, leading to the highly inappropriate title of "morning sickness".
You may also find it best to avoid any unnecessary travel, especially on public transport or if you already suffer with travel sickness. Pregnancy-related nausea can really aggravate existing travel sickness making it far more severe. The last thing you want is to be sick on the bus (trust me!).
Fortunately, once the first trimester is behind you, you should find that the dreaded sickness starts to taper off. However, for about 5% of women with morning sickness, the nausea and vomiting continues well beyond the twelfth week of pregnancy. Some women also find that the sickness returns in full force during the third trimester when the pregnancy hormones peak again for one final time before the baby's born. But rest assured this isn't too common.
Even more uncommon, but still a possibility, is hyperemesis gravidarum; this is morning sickness on a massive scale. Only one in every 200 pregnant women are thought to suffer with this and the consequences if left untreated can be catastrophic. The main risk is dehydration which is not only dangerous for Mom but baby too. So if you're noticing that you're physically sick more than six times per day, or are displaying any signs of dehydration such as dry skin and lips, it is absolutely vital that you see your Doctor as soon as possible.
Morning sickness is incredibly unpleasant, but it's important to remember that it's not permanent and it is not in any way dangerous to the baby unless you develop any complications. Every pregnancy for every woman is different, so it might be wise to stock up on a few crackers and some ginger just in case. And as for "morning sickness"? It's best to be prepared for it to strike at any time; nausea tends to keep to its own schedule!