By Lola Augustine BrownFrom the print edition, Summer 2012
Morning sickness, as 80 percent of pregnant women know, is an unpleasant side effect of being knocked up. The very name is misleading too, as many women experience nausea and vomiting all day long. Halifax’s Erin Berube is now in her second trimester and says that she was nauseous 24-7 from the week she found out that she was pregnant until she reached week 13. “It was usually intense in the mornings, but sometimes in the evenings too. I threw up a few times, which made me feel a little better for a while, but mostly I was just nauseous all day long,” she says.
Haley Shewciw’s morning sickness—the technical term is Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy (NVP)—was so severe that she lost 10 pounds. The Edmonton mom-to-be was among the one percent of women who suffer from excessive vomiting—hyperemesis gravidarum—during pregnancy and had to be admitted to hospital to be treated for dehydration. After her release, she was on short-term disability for six weeks. “I had no idea it could be that debilitating,” she says. “The only time I left the house was when I had to drag myself out of bed to go to a doctor’s appointment.” Now 22 weeks along, Shewciw says she still gets waves of nausea a few times a week.
Doctors don’t actually know why some women get morning sickness and others don’t, or why some women do with one pregnancy and not another, says Anna Neumann, MD, a family doctor in Halifax and lecturer in the department of family medicine at Dalhousie University. Most research points to a combination of physical changes, including higher levels of hormones during early pregnancy.
For most women, morning sickness is a first-trimester occurrence, beginning between the fourth and ninth week of pregnancy and ending around week 12. “It only goes on beyond this for 20 percent of women, and some will experience it for their entire pregnancy,” says Dr. Neumann. “However, it doesn’t affect the baby, so long as you are getting the nutrients you need and are staying properly hydrated.”
Despite the obvious drawbacks, women with NVP may take some comfort in the fact that nausea has been linked to lower miscarriage risk, and a recent study by Motherisk researchers at Toronto’s The Hospital for Sick Children’s also established that there is a small association between high levels of nausea and increased intelligence in children.
Treatments to Try
When a woman comes to her with morning sickness, the first thing Dr. Neumann advises is making adjustments to diet. “Having an empty stomach makes nausea worse, so eating small, frequent meals is key. If you wake up sick, try eating a few crackers 15 minutes before even getting out of bed,” she says. Also, drink small amounts of fluids (or chew ice chips) frequently throughout the day to stay hydrated.
“Many women also find that ingesting ginger, either as a food or in capsules, is also helpful. Some women have great success using acupuncture or acupressure wrist bands,” adds Dr. Neumann. (Berube wore motion sickness wristbands during her first trimester and swears they helped lessen her nausea.)
K.C. Bateman, a naturopathic doctor in Burlington, Ont., also recommends ginger tea to patients with NVP. “A naturopath may also be able to recommend an individualized homeopathic remedy that will help you and be safe for Baby,” he says.
If you are desperate for relief, ask your health-care provider about Diclectin, a prescription medication approved in Canada for the treatment of morning sickness. “It is completely safe. You don’t need to suffer needlessly with nausea—six weeks is a long time to be feeling like that,” says Dr. Neumann. However, “consult with your obstetrical provider before taking even something like Gravol,” she adds.