What Is Pregnancy Nausea?

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Pregnancy nausea and vomiting, also known as morning sickness, are very common. In most people, symptoms subside a few months into the pregnancy, but some people have nausea throughout.

Experiencing nausea during pregnancy is normal. And while it can make you uncomfortable, it’s not usually a cause for concern. However, it’s possible to experience severe nausea and vomiting, which can cause complications.

Late pregnancy nausea is totally normal

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When Does It Start?

The nausea and vomiting that come with morning sickness usually begin early in a pregnancy, at around six weeks. Most people get relief from symptoms about three months into their pregnancy. However, some people have nausea that lasts the entire time.

Nausea and vomiting don't always accompany each other. Some people with morning sickness only experience nausea, while others may only vomit.

Causes

Experts don’t really know what causes morning sickness. It may have something to do with hormones.

Some things that can exacerbate morning sickness include:

  • Stress
  • Fatigue
  • Certain foods or smells
  • Experiencing motion sickness

According to an article in the journal American Family Physician, the following pregnant people are at greater risk for morning sickness:

  • Older adults
  • Low-income people
  • Black people
  • People with less education

Treatments and Prevention

While morning sickness affects many pregnant people, it doesn’t mean you have to wince through vomiting and nausea. There are ways to relieve symptoms. Strategies to limit morning sickness include:

  • Eating foods that don’t aggravate your stomach, such as crackers
  • Eating small meals
  • Avoiding foods that seem to make nausea worse
  • Hydrating throughout the day
  • Avoiding other triggers, like smells that may cause nausea
  • Getting lots of sleep
  • Drinking ginger tea
  • Getting fresh air
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) products, such as vitamin B6 or doxylamine (there is a prescription pill that combines both)
  • Prescription antiemetics

Note that not all antiemetics are safe to use during pregnancy. Read labels carefully. This goes for supplements as well. Don’t take a supplement or OTC medication without first consulting a doctor or pharmacist.

Some sources suggest alternative medical therapies such as acupressure and acupuncture to relieve morning sickness. However, evidence suggests that these therapies are not effective for treating nausea and vomiting due to pregnancy.

When to Worry

Mild morning sickness is not unsafe for you or your baby. Even moderate nausea and vomiting shouldn’t cause complications. Regardless of the severity of your morning sickness, you should see a healthcare professional to discuss available treatment options.

Some people may develop severe morning sickness that involves frequent vomiting, dehydration, and weight loss. This condition is called hyperemesis gravidarum. It occurs in about 1% of pregnant people.

If you can’t keep food down or you’re vomiting so much that you’re becoming dehydrated, you’ll likely need to be hospitalized. Severe dehydration and malnutrition are serious complications that require a hospital stay.

Losing weight early on in pregnancy because of severe morning sickness is linked to low birth weight.

People at higher risk for severe pregnancy nausea include:

  • People carrying multiples
  • People who have had morning sickness before or family who have had it
  • People with migraines
  • People who are prone to motion sickness
  • People carrying a female fetus

Sometimes, severe nausea and vomiting are a sign of something else entirely. If you’re not feeling well, talk to a healthcare professional to be safe.

What else could it be? Here are other potential causes for nausea and vomiting during pregnancy:

  • Stomach bug
  • Acid reflux
  • Migraines
  • Gallbladder inflammation
  • Kidney stones
  • Pancreatitis
  • Ulcers
  • Preeclampsia

There are many causes of nausea and vomiting. This list is not exhaustive.

If you have symptoms other than nausea and vomiting, this may mean that you are experiencing something other than morning sickness.

A Word From Verywell

You don’t have to push through nausea. Just because it’s common doesn’t mean it should be a regular part of pregnancy. You don’t have to wait until symptoms are severe to see a doctor.

If you’re experiencing nausea and vomiting, talk to your healthcare professional to determine treatment options. It’s also possible that nausea and vomiting are a symptom of something else. Talking to them can rule out other potential illnesses.

It’s OK to seek medical care if you’re struggling with nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. Don’t let anyone else dismiss your symptoms and dictate how you feel.

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Article Sources
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  1. Cleveland Clinic. Morning sickness (nausea and vomiting of pregnancy). Updated June 29, 2017.

  2. Herrell HD. Nausea and vomiting of pregnancy. American Family Physician. 2014;89(12):965-970.

  3. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Morning sickness: Nausea and vomiting of pregnancy. May 2020.