woman with morning sickness holding a cup of tea

How to Deal with Morning Sickness

By Marisa Iallonardo
Reviewed by Elizabeth Eden, M.D.
October 27, 2023
You can listen to this article.

Morning sickness is nausea and vomiting typically experienced in early pregnancy. Most people have likely heard of morning sickness because it's common.

Up to 80% of people will report some nausea or vomiting during pregnancy, says Joanne Motino Bailey, Ph.D., a certified nurse midwife at University of Michigan Health. And many people struggle with it.

Thankfully, there are strategies that can help you deal with morning sickness. Read on to learn what you can expect with this type of nausea and vomiting, and get tips on how to ease your symptoms and feel better.

Understanding Morning Sickness Symptoms

Morning sickness doesn’t always lead to vomiting. But you will always feel sick and nauseous, says Steve Behram, M.D., medical director of Congressional OB/GYN, in Rockville, Maryland.

Severity can vary, says Behram. And even though it’s called morning sickness, the nausea and/or vomiting can hit at any time of day. Some people may also experience other symptoms, like dry heaving, food aversions, and extra saliva.

“For me, it was all-day, near-constant nausea,” says Kristen Bonistall, a mother of three who lives in Westchester County, New York.

Haydee Gomez, who lives in Tarrytown, New York, experienced similar symptoms in her first trimester. “I would feel ill and nauseous most days. I was also sensitive to smells, which did not help my situation. I was commuting and taking the subway to work.”

Haydee says her morning sickness got so bad that she repeatedly vomited on the train and had to shop for clean clothes on her way to work. While Kristen says she never threw up, but sometimes wished she could.

What Causes Morning Sickness?

Experts can’t pinpoint the exact cause of morning sickness. The most common explanation is that it’s triggered by the rising levels of human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG). That’s the pregnancy hormone that turns a urine pregnancy test positive, explains Behram.

Another theory is that morning sickness is an evolutionary protection that keeps a pregnant person from eating harmful foods. However, there’s no evidence to support this, Bailey says.

Regardless of what causes morning sickness, it’s a pregnancy symptom that’s been clinically recognized for generations, says Gloria A. Bachmann, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn and professor at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

“Even the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates wrote of the pregnant woman’s reduced intake of food due to loss of appetite and nausea,” she says.

How Long Does Morning Sickness Last?

Behram says that morning sickness tends to start around four to six weeks after the first day of your last menstrual period, as the HCG hormone begins to surge. Symptoms tend to peak somewhere between the seventh and 13th week of pregnancy and then subside.

“But again, this is highly variable,” he notes. It’s possible for morning sickness to last the entire pregnancy. Full-term morning sickness can occur in up to 20% of pregnancies.

“In my first pregnancy, the nausea lasted for two weeks and was somewhat manageable,” Kristen says. “In the second and third pregnancies, the nausea lasted to 15 and 20 weeks, respectively.”

6 Best Ways to Deal with Morning Sickness

woman eating nuts to help her deal with morning sickness

Morning sickness will eventually pass, whether in a few weeks, months, or after the baby is born. In the meantime, you can try morning sickness remedies to ease the queasiness.

1. Snack Regularly to Control Blood Sugar and Reduce Nausea

“The most basic thing I tell people to do is focus on very small high-protein snacks throughout the day,” Bailey says. “High-protein snacks help stabilize blood sugar levels, which may be a contributor to nausea.” She suggests a handful of nuts, a few pieces of cheese, or a few bites of a protein bar.

Snacking often can be one of the best remedies for morning sickness. Try setting an alarm every two hours to remind yourself to eat something.

Salty snacks, like saltine crackers, can settle your stomach and help you retain water, which is important for staying hydrated.

2. Eat Ginger to Reduce Nausea, Vomiting, and Dry Heaving

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends ginger ale, ginger candy, and ginger tea for morning sickness relief. Research suggests that ginger is an effective way to combat vomiting and nausea.

In one study, a group of pregnant women took 125 milligrams of ginger extract four times a day and reported a greater decrease in nausea and dry heaving, compared to a group who was given a placebo. A 2018 study reported similar results: A mix of ginger, hot water, and a little sugar helped reduce vomiting in the first trimester.

3. Use Aromatherapy to Combat Triggering Smells

Some scents may help ease your nausea. Bailey recommends dabbing peppermint essential oil on a cotton ball and waving it under your nose.

For Haydee, it’s lemon that did the trick. “I would cut lemons into small wedges and keep them in a Ziploc bag in my purse,” she says. “They got me through 12 weeks of feeling pretty awful.”

Experts aren’t totally sure why certain scents help symptoms. Behram says that there could be a connection with the chemoreceptor trigger zone, a part of the brainstem that’s associated with vomiting.

He says certain scents like lemon or mint don’t just distract. They can possibly activate chemical changes in this zone thus reducing nausea and vomiting in pregnancy.

4. Try Acupuncture

“Acupuncture has been shown to be effective in the treatment of morning sickness,” Behram says. A 2002 study published in the journal Birth says that pregnant women who were treated with traditional acupuncture experienced decreases in both nausea and dry heaving, compared to women in a control group.

5. Consider Medication

woman taking medication for morning sickness

“There are medications that can help,” Bailey says. Over-the-counter medications like vitamin B6 and Unisom (doxylamine succinate), an antihistamine commonly used as a sleep aid, have been shown to relieve morning sickness when taken together, she adds.

There’s also the medication Zofran, which is regularly prescribed to treat morning sickness.

Always check with your healthcare provider before taking anything to confirm it’s safe and that you’re using the correct dosage.

6. Drink Up and Stay Hydrated to Minimize Nausea

Staying hydrated is key, Bailey says. Drink plenty of fluids, especially water, to help curb nausea and prevent dehydration from vomiting. It may help to sip slowly or to drink sparkling or carbonated water.

In Kristen’s third pregnancy, when her morning sickness lasted the longest, Trader Joe’s cranberry and lime juice seltzer became her go-to. “It really stopped the nausea,” she says.

How to Deal With Severe Morning Sickness

As uncomfortable as it is, the queasiness and vomiting of early pregnancy are not usually dangerous for your baby, according to ACOG. However, there are some extreme cases.

“Morning sickness [is considered] a serious condition if a patient loses more than 5% of their body weight, due to dehydration,” Behram explains.

“Patients with a more severe form of morning sickness are said to have hyperemesis gravidarum, which can also lead to significant electrolyte imbalances.”

Hyperemesis gravidarum is rare, only occurring in up to 3% of pregnancies, and it requires medical intervention, according to ACOG.

Look out for symptoms that go beyond nausea and vomiting, like fever, abdominal pain, diarrhea, or blood in the vomit. If you notice any of these, contact your provider as soon as possible. They can be signs of other health issues, such as an infection or a severe gastrointestinal disorder, Bailey says.

She also urges that if you’re unable to keep fluid down after 24 hours, you should head to the emergency room and call your doctor.

How to Deal with Morning Sickness at Work

woman eating sour candy to help her deal with morning sickness at work

While morning sickness can be hard to handle at any time, it can be especially tough to navigate while at work.

How you cope with morning sickness depends on the severity of your symptoms and the type of job you have, explains Damali M. Campbell Oparaji, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn and associate professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark.

For example, if food smells make your nausea worse, morning sickness may be easier to deal with if you work in an office than it would be if you worked at a restaurant.

While there’s no one-size-fits-all remedy to curbing nausea and dry-heaving at work, there are solutions you can turn to. (And remember if one doesn’t help, another might.) Along with those mentioned above, here are a few you can try for work:

Keep Sour Candy on Hand

If you have excess saliva caused by morning sickness, sour candy or sour gummies can help dry out the mouth, says Campbell Oparaji. This can be helpful if you work around other people and don’t want to spit repeatedly throughout the day.

Ask for Accommodations to Help Manage Your Workday

Consider talking to your employer about making accommodations that can help make your morning sickness symptoms easier to handle.

For example, instead of a one-hour lunch break, ask if you can take two 30-minute breaks so you can eat more often.

Or if you need extra rest, see if you can adjust your hours so you have a half-hour longer break during the day, but stay an extra half-hour at the end, suggests Campbell Oparaji.

Feeling comfortable asking for changes like this sometimes comes down to your relationship with your employer. If it’s early in your pregnancy, you might not feel ready to tell them yet.

Remember that pregnancy discrimination is illegal and, by law, employers are “required to make reasonable accommodations” for pregnant employees, Campbell Oparaji notes. That includes things like breaks, or being exempt from strenuous tasks.

(Not sure how to bring up the conversation? We’ve got some ideas.)

Consider Filing for Disability Leave for Severe Symptoms

If your morning sickness symptoms are severe or tough to handle, you may qualify for time off through the Family Medical Leave Act or state programs, like short-term disability.

Severe symptoms can lead to dehydration and other dangerous health issues, says Campbell Oparaji.

“I have placed patients on temporary disability for a couple of weeks,” she says. “And then, once their symptoms abate a bit—once we get them stabilized—they can go back to work.”

She recommends talking to human resources. You can also find more info on taking medical leave at federal and state websites, like dol.gov.

Being out of work for a short time doesn’t mean you’ll be resting the whole pregnancy and could help you get the treatment you need to get through the worst of your symptoms.

Use Trial and Error to Find What Works

If you’re suffering from mild or moderate morning sickness, you may need to experiment with different stomach-settling tricks to find the one that works for you. Severe morning sickness requires a trip to the doctor.

Remember, just about everyone—pregnant or not—can relate to the misery of nausea, so try not to feel embarrassed about the symptoms or the strategies you use to ease them.

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