Life Mothers & Babies

Monday 19 August 2019

Forty shades of green: How to battle morning sickness

Nausea and/or vomiting may be very common features of early pregnancy, but that doesn't make them any more pleasant. The main thing is to try to manage the symptoms, and know when to get help.

For most women, symptoms start around week six and disappear around week 14.
For most women, symptoms start around week six and disappear around week 14.

Eithne Dunne.

The term 'morning sickness' may be nice and short, and easy to remember, but it is of course a misnomer; the correct term is the less wieldy 'nausea and vomiting of pregnancy'. The reason is that most women suffer the symptoms at various stages throughout the day, and sometimes even all day long.

However you refer to the condition, it is estimated to affect three quarters of all pregnant women. And just as the times of day it strikes varies from woman to woman, so does the severity. About half of all pregnant women will experience both nausea and vomiting, a quarter nausea alone, and the rest will avoid it altogether.

For the uninitiated, the idea of a bit of vomiting or nausea might not sound all that bad, and of course many women get through this phase without too much bother. For those with persistent or severe symptoms, it's a bit like having a serious tummy bug -- that would normally last a couple of days - dragged out over a couple of months. In these cases, it is a very debilitating and miserable time.

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For most women, symptoms start around week six and disappear around week 14. However, this too can vary, with some women feeling ill for several weeks beyond that and about one in 10 unfortunate enough to have it the whole way through their pregnancy.


Although it is not known exactly what causes 'morning sickness', the chief suspects are hormones, particularly human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). Increases in hCG tend to coincide with the appearance of symptoms.

Risk factors include having had the condition in a previous pregnancy, a family history of it, a history of motion sickness or of nausea when taking contraceptives containing oestregen, multiple (twin/triplet) pregnancies, stress and obesity.

In rare cases, a woman will develop hyperemesis gravidarum. This is a very severe form of 'morning sickness', whereby there is extensive vomiting and weight loss.

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Mary Cronin, a midwife based in Kinsale, Co Cork, says such women are usually hospitalised. "It's very serious because of the risk of dehydration. It's rare, but it does happen and we do see it. With hyperemesis, a woman is vomiting and retching all day and during the night, and it does not subside at three months." There are various medical treatments for this, usually involving an IV drip to restore hydration, electrolytes, vitamins and minerals, and possibly some kind of anti-sickness medication.

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When it comes to minimising the symptoms, everyone will have their own favourite tips and tricks.

"It's so unique to the individual," says Cronin. "What one person thinks is a good idea, another will vomit at the thought of it. For some women, eating something - usually a dry biscuit or cracker - before they get up helps. Ginger tea or ginger biscuits can be good too."

Other approaches some women find helpful include: sipping on water regularly rather than drinking a glass at once; eating small, carbohydrate-rich meals (bread, rice, pasta); opting for cold rather than hot meals (to avoid the nauseating smells).


'Also, if you can manage to eat but hate the thoughts of cooking (because of the smells it creates), call in some favours with friends or family and get them to help out. Just make sure you tell them to make something fairly bland though; now is not the time for them to try out their latest curry recipe on you.

According to Cronin, if people are looking for more than these basic solutions, she advises them to go to a qualified herbalist or acupuncturist. "These can be very helpful for some women; the main thing is to make sure you go to a qualified person who will give you the right advice, information and treatment."

When to seek help

Most women will be able to manage their 'morning sickness' quite well themselves. However there are certain symptoms that should prompt you to contact your GP straight away. These include: failure to keep food or drink down over a 24-hour period; very dark-coloured urine or failure to pass urine for more than eight hours; severe weakness/dizziness when standing up; tummy pain; or a temperature of 38 degrees Celsius or more.

Irish Independent

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