Nutrition for Nausea and Morning Sickness

For pregnant women, nausea or morning sickness can lead to dehydration and poor nutrition. About 35 percent of pregnant women experience nausea or morning sickness. A small number of these pregnant women, however, experience such severe nausea and/or vomiting that they do not consume adequate food and fluids. This severe morning sickness, called Hyperemesis Gravidarum, is rare but can lead to serious complications brought about by the loss of 10 percent of the mother’s body weight in the first trimester of pregnancy. This type of morning sickness may require hospitalization and intravenous rehydration. For the average woman, however, changing diet or taking supplements can help alleviate symptoms of morning sickness.

Causes of Nausea and Morning Sickness

Some researchers at Cornell University say morning sickness might be nature’s way of protecting the developing fetus from toxins and pathogens. Their studies show that the foods most commonly causing nausea include bitter-tasting drinks, such as coffee; strong and bitter-tasting vegetables, such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts; and meat, fish, and eggs.

Meat, fish, and eggs are more likely to contain pathogens than most other foods. Because many toxins taste bitter, an aversion to bitter foods during early pregnancy could be nature’s way of protecting the fetus. In cultures where animal products are not consumed, morning sickness is nearly nonexistent.

When morning sickness does arise, symptoms must be minimized so the mother obtains enough fluids and nutrients to feed herself and her fetus.

Nutrition for Nausea and Morning Sickness

Studies show that by taking vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), ginger or a multivitamin, most women’s symptoms of nausea and morning sickness can safely and effectively be reduced.

  • Vitamin B6: Several studies concluded that vitamin B6 can reduce nausea and vomiting within one week. One trial shows that the more severe the nausea and morning sickness, the more benefits the women derived from either 30 or 75 mg per day of vitamin B6 taken by mouth.
  • Ginger: Taken as tea or in capsules, ginger is a traditional remedy for nausea. Research studies have shown that 250 mg capsules of ground ginger, taken four times per day, effectively treat women for nausea and morning sickness. In one study, 88 percent of the women taking ginger felt less nauseated. Government agencies, however, do not regulate ginger products in the same way they regulate prescription medications. Sometimes, natural products contain incorrect dosing or the wrong herb is packaged. Therefore, it might be preferable to use natural ginger root from the produce section of the grocery store, with the added benefit of the fresh ginger providing a stronger therapeutic effect.
  • Multivitamin: Taking a daily multivitamin also might decrease nausea and morning sickness among pregnant women. One study on multivitamin use and the development of birth defects discovered that women who took the multivitamins had less nausea and vomiting than women who took a placebo. Because the multivitamin contained less than 3 mg of vitamin B6 (much less than the 30 or 75 mg provided to pregnant women in other studies), the benefits of the multivitamin might also have been due to the other nutrients, or to some combination of nutrients, in the multivitamin.

Vitamin B6, ginger, and multivitamins during pregnancy are appropriate treatments for nausea and morning sickness and their safety has been well documented. Consult your physician or dietitian, however, before modifying your nutritional program.

Additional Tips for Relieving Nausea and Morning Sickness

Following these additional tips can relieve nausea and morning sickness symptoms:

  • For many women, an empty stomach triggers nausea, so morning sickness often occurs first thing upon rising. Try eating dry crackers fifteen minutes before getting out of bed in the morning.
  • Eat small, frequent meals every two or three hours, even if there’s not feeling of hunger. Keeping food in the stomach can decrease nausea.
  • At times when feeling better, try including a broader array of nutrient-rich foods.
  • Increase vitamin B6 intake by eating whole grains, nuts, seeds, peas, and beans. Discuss taking vitamin B6 supplements with your doctor.
  • After eating, sit down so gravity can help keep the food in the stomach. Stand up slowly and do not lie down.
  • Don't brush one’s teeth immediately after eating as this can cause vomiting.
  • Ginger is the most frequently recommended natural product for the treatment of nausea or morning sickness during pregnancy. Published studies have shown that ginger might be considered a useful treatment option, but more data must be collected.
  • Drink about eight glasses of liquid, such as water, herbal tea or juice, during the day to keep hydrated.
  • Avoid drinking during a meal. Drink fluids 30 minutes before a meal or 30 minutes after a meal.
  • Avoid strong smells.
  • Try eating the food cold rather than hot, as cold foods have less odor.
  • When feeling nauseated, try soothing, bland foods like gelatin, broth, ginger ale, and saltine crackers.
  • If the smell of food is bothersome while its being cooked, try to improve ventilation in the cooking area or seek assistance with cooking.
  • Try to increase resting periods and take more naps during the day.
  • It might help to eat a snack before going to bed at night.
  • Take prenatal vitamins at night.
  • Try switching from a prenatal vitamin containing iron to another type to see if symptoms ease.
  • Consider replacing prenatal vitamins with folic acid supplements.
  • If awoken at night, eat a small snack. This might help prevent nausea in the morning.
  • Finally, if symptoms persist or worsen, consult your physician.

Foods to Avoid to Prevent Morning Sickness

  • Alcohol and caffeine
  • Food containing a lot of fat or spices, especially fried foods
  • Acidic foods

For additional assistance, seek out the advice of a nutritionist.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your doctor if:

  • Morning sickness does not improve, despite trying home remedies.
  • Nausea and vomiting continue beyond the fourth month of pregnancy.
  • You lose more than two pounds.
  • You vomit blood or material that looks like coffee grounds (call immediately).
  • You vomit more than three times per day or you cannot keep food or liquid down.

Additional Resources

SOS Morning Sickness, information about Nausea and Vomiting during Pregnancy (NVP)

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