Your morning sickness questions answered

Your morning sickness questions answered

Feel queasy when you're expecting is no fun. Here specialist dietition Robyn Coetzee explains what morning sickness is and offers tips on how to improve your daily life when you get it


What is morning sickness? 

Nausea and vomiting is a common symptom of pregnancy but rarely develops into the more severe hyperemesis gravidarum. Although symptoms may be milder, nausea and vomiting during pregnancy can still be debilitating and have a negative impact on a woman's nutritional status during pregnancy.

Is there a diet plan to help minimise morning sickness?

Unfortunately there is limited research available to help inform us as to the best diet to treat nausea. Different people find different strategies helpful, but some of the following may help:

  • Try to have small, frequent meals and snacks. Having an empty stomach tends to make feelings of nausea worse.
  • Keep hydrated. Sip on small amounts of fluids across the day.
  • Cold, plain foods are often better tolerated than hot food as these tend to have less of an aroma which can aggravate nausea.
  • Avoid fatty, spicy foods.
  • Sip or suck on ginger flavoured drinks and sweets.
  • Stay out of the kitchen during meal preparation. If possible, ask someone else to prepare meals or make use of ready prepared meals to reduce exposure to aroma during cooking.
  • Sometimes drinking and eating at the same time can make nausea worse. Consume foods and fluids separately.

Tips for travelling on the bus or tube when you have morning sickness

  • Be sure to wear your 'baby on board' badge to help to make the journey more comfortable.
  • Take a cold bottle of water or diluted fruit juice to sip on during the journey. This will help to keep you cool and hydrated.
  • Take something to snack on if you have a long journey. Long periods without eating can make nausea worse. Plain biscuits, cereal bars and nuts all travel well and can be helpful to nibble on.
  • Make sure to wash your hands after travelling and before eating. A women's immunity drops slightly during pregnancy making it easier to pick up bugs and become sick from food contamination.

Does frequent vomiting affect the baby and its development?

A women's body goes through a number of adaptations during pregnancy to ensure optimal growth of the baby. The milder, more common, form of nausea and vomiting during pregnancy is therefore unlikely to have a significant impact on the baby's development. There is however growing evidence that due to the severity and its impact on nutritional status, hyperemesis gravidarum can affect the baby's development. Some studies have found hyperemesis to be associated with a lower birth weight, small head circumference and reduced insulin sensitivity in offspring which can have implications for the long term health of the baby.

What is hyperemesis gravidarum?

Hyperemesis Gravidarum is a severe form of nausea and vomiting that typically occurs at around four to ten weeks of pregnancy and affects around 0.3 to 1.5% of pregnancies. It is characterised by weight loss, intractable vomiting, electrolyte disturbances and often requires hospitalization.

How can you ensure you're getting the nutrients and vitamins you need if you are regularly sick in pregnancy?

Getting enough nutrition can be difficult when suffering from hyperemesis. It is important to try to keep on top of things early before nausea and poor nutritional intake become a vicious cycle. Trying the above may be helpful, however at times severe nausea and vomiting may make taking anything orally very difficult. It is important that women with hyperemesis seek medical attention as hospitalisation may be required where anti-sickness medication and intravenous fluids may be prescribed. A dietitian can also help to optimise nutritional intake through tailored nutritional advice, nutritional supplements or tube feeding in severe cases.


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