Nausea during pregnancy — more commonly known as morning sickness — is a common symptom that many moms-to-be experience, especially within the first trimester of pregnancy. Estimates show that 50 percent to 80 percent of all pregnant women deal with morning sickness at some point during their pregnancies. And many of those women feel nauseous for a good portion of the day, far beyond just the morning hours. (1)
In the medical community, morning sickness is sometimes known as nausea and vomiting of pregnancy. Something that might surprise you about morning sickness? There’s actually some good news associated with feeling nauseous during pregnancy. According to the Institute of Health Sciences at Oxford, research shows that morning sickness actually seems to have a positive effect on pregnancy outcome and is associated with a healthier mother, delivery and newborn baby. New moms who experience morning sickness are at a decreased risk of having a miscarriage. The baby is also less likely to be delivered preterm or at a low birth weight. (2)
That being said, morning sickness can be very unpleasant to deal with, especially when it stops a mom-to-be from being able to eat enough or if it lasts for months on end. Researchers still don’t have concrete answers about the exact causes of morning sickness, although factors including blood sugar fluctuations and having a high body mass (BMI) prior to pregnancy both seem to play a role.
What can you do to help lower the frequency and severity of morning sickness? Some ways to help prevent and treat nausea or other digestive issues during pregnancy include reaching a healthy weight prior to pregnancy, eating healthy meals regularly throughout the day, and using natural remedies like essential oils and exercise.
The Top Natural Remedies for Morning Sickness
1. Avoid Foods that Make Morning Sickness Worse
It’s normal for morning sickness to cause a decrease in appetite and cravings. Experts believe that this might be the body’s natural way of blocking the embryo from potentially dangerous food chemicals, especially those that come from foods that become easily spoiled or toxic when not refrigerated (like meat). If you experience morning sickness, it’s not totally necessary to force yourself to eat things that don’t agree with you (even if they’re superfoods for pregnancy). Instead, eat plenty of the healthy things that you can tolerate well.
Although every pregnant woman is different in terms of he food aversions and cravings, common foods to avoid during morning sickness include:
- Alcohol and caffeine: Alcohol can harm the embryo/fetus and should be avoided throughout pregnancy for many reasons. This advice is usually pretty easy for most pregnant woman to abide by, since many experience very strong aversions to alcoholic and nonalcoholic (mostly caffeinated) beverages anyway.
- Strong-tasting or smelling vegetables: Although vegetables are nutrient-dense foods and important in an overall healthy diet, if they disagree with you for several weeks, it’s OK to skip them. Strong-tasting veggies that might cause vomiting and loss of appetite include bitter greens, broccoli, mushrooms or cauliflower. In their place, focus on eating milder veggies like squash, tomatoes or carrots.
- Low-quality meat, fish, poultry and eggs: Many studies show that a high percentage of pregnant women experience a reduced appetite for animal products when experiencing morning sickness. A cross-cultural analysis found that among 20 traditional societies in which morning sickness has been observed, along with seven societies in which it has never been observed, those with much lower incidence of morning sickness tend to consume less animal products overall. Societies in which morning sickness rates are low are very unlikely to include animal products as dietary staples. Instead, they’re more likely to focus on plant-based foods. One reason this might be true is because low-quality animal products become dangerous to pregnant women and their embryos if they contain parasites and pathogens. (This is most likely to happen when they aren’t fresh or when they’re stored at room temperatures in warm climates. This causes bacteria to grow.)
- Greasy, fatty foods: It’s harder to digest foods that are high in grease and fat, especially trans fats and hydrogenated fats. Skip fried foods, fatty cuts of meat, lots of cheese and foods made with refined vegetable oils (like safflower, corn, sunflower oil).
- Salty, processed/packaged foods: Most packaged foods are high in salt, added sugar, refined fats, preservatives and artificial ingredients that aren’t good for you or your baby. Fresh, low-processed, cooked foods that aren’t too spicy tend to be easiest to digest. You can also avoid consuming too much sodium/salt by cutting down on processed foods and ultra-processed foods, which can contribute to dizziness, weakness and other complications.
2. Consume Foods that Help Lower Morning Sickness Symptoms
Pregnant women are more vulnerable to serious, even deadly infections. This means it’s crucial to support a strong immune system and avoid nutrient deficiencies as much as possible. That being said, when you strongly dislike a certain food during pregnancy, it’s not necessary to force it. Chances are there’s another food that provides similar nutrients that won’t trigger nausea.
Foods that can help lower morning sickness symptoms include:
- Ginger (fresh ginger root, ginger tea or ginger slices): Ginger root has been used for thousands of years to curb nausea naturally. It’s a natural anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmatic, infection-preventer and soothes the digestive tract, thanks to its active ingredient gingerol. (3) Use grated ginger when cooking, sip on cooled or heated ginger tea, or even chew on real ginger chews or mints between meals.
- Any veggies you can tolerate: These serve as important sources of antioxidants and fiber.
- Fresh fruit: Fruits like berries, apples, kiwi, citrus and melons are high in antioxidants like vitamin C, other vitamins, fiber and water.
- Starchy veggies: Starchy vegetables like potatoes, turnips and winter squash are high in carbohydrates, low in protein, low in fat, low in salt and easy to digest. They also provide important nutrients like beta-carotene and fiber.
- Soups and bone broth: These serve as great sources of nutrients like collagen and electrolytes.
- Organic/unsweetened dairy products: These provide protein and important nutrients like potassium and magnesium.
- Healthy fats: Nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil and coconut oil provide essential fats and are easy to digest.
Other dietary tips for helping you deal with nausea and vomiting during pregnancy include:
- Don’t skip breakfast. Eat something early in the day, and if you already feel nauseous, try something bland like toast.
- Eat smaller meals throughout the day, instead of several large meals. Try not to go more than three or four hours without a snack.
- Drink plenty of water or herbal tea. It’s very important to stay hydrated. It’s best to drink low-sugar drinks rather than juice or sweetened beverages, but a little seltzer spiked with fresh juice can also help you consume more water. You can also add fresh mint, lemon or grapefruit juice, raw honey, basil, or ginger to juice/seltzer to help you find it more appealing.
- Take your prenatal vitamins at night or with a snack rather than in the morning.
3. Take Supplements to Reduce Morning Sickness Symptoms
Before taking herbal supplements, it’s a good idea to run them by your doctor, especially if you take medications. Interactions can sometimes occur even when an herbal product is natural, so err on the safe side. That being said, the supplements and herbal treatments used below are often prescribed for pregnant women to safely help curb morning sickness symptoms: (4)
- Ginger (tablets, ginger essential oil or extract): Not only do they curb nausea and vomiting, but these supplements can also ease colic, indigestion, diarrhea, spasms and other types of stomachaches.
- Magnesium and calcium: These are important for lowering muscle cramping and reducing other symptoms associated with nausea, such as dizziness and headaches.
- Vitamin D: The best way to get vitamin D is from spending abut 20 minutes outdoors in the sun. However, a supplement can help if this isn’t possible.
- Probiotics: These gut-friendly supplements help establish a healthier digestive and immune system, lowering risk for complications.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: These help lower inflammation that can contribute to hormonal problems and digestive issues.
- Vitamin B6 and vitamin B12: Taking Vitamin B6 (50 milligrams) daily has been shown to help ease pregnancy-induced nausea. Vitamin B12 can also reduce fatigue and help with digestion.
4. Try Acupuncture
Acupuncture, hypnosis and meditation help many women feel calmer. This is important for controlling pain and digestion. One blind, randomized, controlled trial conducted at a maternity hospital in Australia tested whether acupuncture treatments could help reduce nausea, dry retching and vomiting in pregnant woman. Researchers found that the majority of participants experienced positive outcomes over the course of four weeks compared to a placebo group. (5)
5. Use Key Essential Oils
Aromatherapy helps many women feel more relaxed and soothes digestion. Essential oils that can help calm your stomach, lower cramping, and improve your mood or appetite include ginger, chamomile, lavender, frankincense, peppermint and lemon. Inhale them through a diffuser, or add several drops to a bath for the best results.
6. Do Moderate-Intensity Exercise
The benefits of exercise extend don’t go away just because a woman is pregnant. In fact, exercise can help promote a healthy pregnancy. Most women can resume their usual exercise routines in their first trimesters, although it might be necessary to take the intensity down a notch. Exercise can help control nerves that might contribute to nausea and also regulate hormones and improve appetite. (6)
Studies also show that exercise helps release natural endorphins that can reduce digestive pains and make you feel happier and more awake. Aim for about 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week, including walking (especially outdoors), prenatal yoga, swimming and cycling.
Morning Sickness Symptoms
When does morning sickness start? The first trimester of pregnancy (around weeks one to 12) is infamous for causing an array of unwanted symptoms, especially loss of appetite and vomiting associated with morning sickness. Many pregnant women start to experience nausea just two to three weeks after conception, sometimes along with other signs and symptoms like blood spotting and breast tenderness. For most, however, morning sickness starts between weeks four and nine.
What does morning sickness feel like for most women? An ongoing joke among pregnant women seems to be that “morning sickness” should really be renamed “all-day sickness” or even “afternoon sickness,” since digestive issues can really strike at any time.
According to the What To Expect website, common symptoms of morning sickness can include: (7)
- feeling nauseous/queasy (this can occur after getting up in the morning but also other times of day or even all day)
- a decrease in appetite, especially for veggies, meat, eggs, and drinks with alcohol and caffeine
- stomach cramping
- other symptoms that occur at the same time, such as headaches, fatigue, weight loss, dizziness, sweating, nervousness and tenderness
Wondering how long morning sickness lasts? Most pregnant women (but not all) feel relief from morning sickness after about 14–16 weeks. A lower percentage start to experience decreased nausea and improved appetite between 20–22 weeks, and finally a small (but unlucky) group of women have morning sickness for most of their pregnancies up until delivery. (8)
Morning sickness seem to be especially common among first-time moms (perhaps because excitement/anxiety/nervousness is higher), but about 20 percent of women who have nausea during their first pregnancies develop it again during their next pregnancies too.
And if you’re wondering if it’s a bad thing not to feel nauseous or have morning sickness, the answer is luckily no. Some women experience no morning sickness symptoms at all during a healthy pregnancy, and this is perfectly fine, although not very common!
What Causes Morning Sickness?
Experts believe that morning sickness is mostly triggered by changes in hormone levels, especially rising HCG and estrogen levels. Fluctuations in these hormones are normal and affect every woman differently. Studies have found that morning sickness symptoms are more common among Caucasian and Middle Eastern women, those living in Western countries, and those from urban populations, but rarer among Africans, Native Americans, Eskimos and most Asian populations. (9) This means it’s likely that genetic and/or cultural factors influence hormonal levels that trigger morning sickness.
Other factors that make you more likely to deal with morning sickness include: (10)
- younger age — younger women have higher nausea and vomiting rates during pregnancy
- having less than 12 years of education and a low income
- being overweight or obese
- being a first-time mom — women who are pregnant for the first time tend to have more morning sickness, although this isn’t always the case
- carrying twins or triplets
- having a mother who experienced trouble with nausea in her pregnancy
- having a history of digestive problems, motion sickness, migraine headaches and dizziness
- having a history of nausea when taking estrogen-containing oral contraceptives (birth control pills)
Is morning sickness dangerous to the mom or baby?
For most women, no, it’s not. However, a small percentage of women have a prolonged course with symptoms extending until delivery, which can cause malnutrition and a higher risk for birth defects. Women with severe nausea and vomiting during pregnancy can sometimes develop a condition called hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), which when untreated can cause significant damage to the growing fetus and sometimes even birth defects or death. For the pregnant women, symptoms can include electrolyte imbalance, rapid weight loss, dehydration, micronutrient deficiency and muscle weakness. HG is rare, however, especially in comparison to normal morning sickness. HG occurs in only between 0.3 percent to 2 percent of all pregnancies. (11)
While some women seek help or even medications for dealing with morning sickness symptoms during pregnancy, doctors usually advise most women to avoid taking drugs or prescriptions as much as possible, to wait it out, and to listen to their bodies. Many pregnant women fear that skipping meals, eating less and vomiting might cause harm to the developing embryo/fetus, but doctors usually advise women to follow their appetites (and even aversions) and make sure to drink enough water, instead of forcing themselves to eat certain things. As you’ll learn, nausea and vomiting during pregnancy actually have some benefits, so it’s OK for a period of time to listen to what your body is telling you.
That being said, if you experience these morning sickness symptoms for an extended period of time, talk to your doctor right away as they might cause complications: severe vomiting, urine that’s dark in color, not being able to keep down liquids, fainting, having a racing heart or throwing up blood. (12)
Can Morning Sickness Actually Be Beneficial?
Although morning sickness might be very uncomfortable and inconvenient, you’ll be happy to known it might be for a good cause. Numerous studies have found that women who experience morning sickness are significantly less likely to miscarry than women who do not, and women who vomit suffer fewer miscarriages than those who experience nausea alone.
Several hypotheses have developed throughout the past century in regard to why pregnant women deal with nausea. According to the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at Cornell University, today it’s believed that morning sickness serves as an adaptive function that helps: (13)
- support the developing fetus and placenta by changing certain hormone levels
- make the mom’s body partition calories and nutrients being consumed to be used for the growing baby/placenta, instead of being stored as body fat
- reduce cravings and appetite for ingredients, chemicals and foods that might harm the baby or cause too much weight gain
- protect the mom from infections, illnesses and even death during a period in pregnancy when the immune system is suppressed
- force the pregnant woman to reach a healthier weight early on in the pregnancy if she was overweight to begin with
How Morning Sickness Can Help Protect Mom and Baby
Evidence suggests there might be a positive relationship between morning sickness and having a higher pre-conceptional BMI. In other words, women who are underweight tend to experience less severe symptoms of morning sickness compared with women with normal or high pre-conceptional BMIs. This might be the body’s natural way of helping the pregnant women reach a healthy weight prior to entering the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, when body weight increases even more.
Some research shows that morning sickness can cause an increased secretion of hormones, including HCG and thyroxine, which lower the woman’s appetite. At the same time, a decrease in secretion of anabolic hormones, including insulin and insulin growth factor-1 (IGF-1), can occur, which also help control appetite, body weight, blood sugar levels and cravings. Morning sickness not only results in decreased appetite and reduced food cravings for most women, but also changes the way certain hormones are produced that control the growth of the placenta and fetus.
During early pregnancy, nausea and vomiting can help stimulate placental growth and also make the pregnant mom-to-be avoid foods, toxins and chemicals that can be potentially harmful to the fetus. In fact, there’s a correlation between a higher intensity and frequency of morning sickness and the point during pregnancy at which the fetus and placenta are most susceptible to damage from toxins and certain chemicals (between weeks six and 18). This is exactly why many women experience the most nausea/vomiting during their first trimesters and then tend to feel better toward the middle or end of their pregnancies.
It’s now hypothesized that morning sickness protects both the embryo and pregnant woman by forcing the woman to physically expel and avoid foods that contain “teratogenic and abortifacient” chemicals that can be found in things like strong-tasting vegetables, caffeinated beverages, meat and alcohol. Researchers also believe that morning sickness helps ensure that calories and nutrients consumed by the mom are used to develop the placenta rather than to be stored as extra body fat or tissue. And finally, morning sickness might protect the mom from infections and illness during a period in pregnancy when the immune system is suppressed, while also reducing the chances of the woman’s body rejecting tissues of the developing offspring.
Final Thoughts on Treating Morning Sickness
- Nausea due to “morning sickness” is very common, affecting up to 80 percent of pregnant women, but usually not harmful in most cases.
- Morning sickness symptoms are caused by hormonal changes, although these are very normal and even beneficial effects for both baby and mom.
- Foods that can make morning sickness worse include fatty/greasy foods, high-sodium packaged foods, strong-smelling veggies and too much animal protein.
- Tips for reducing morning sickness include staying hydrated, eating fresh fruits, consuming ginger, using essential oils and keeping up with exercise as long as possible.