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Doing Battle With Morning Sickness

Doing Battle with Morning Sickness

WebMD Feature

Nothing can blast the euphoria of discovering you're pregnant faster than morning sickness. For Deborah Wood, a mother of three and writer in Evanston, Ill., certain smells were killers, especially with her first pregnancy. In fact, opening a refrigerator became an occupational hazard. Just the mention of tuna -- a food she normally loves -- would make her heave. She even started carrying plastic grocery bags in her pockets for those times when a mad dash to the bathroom was impossible.

She's not alone. As many as 90% of all pregnant women experience some degree of nausea or vomiting during pregnancy, says Dr. Jennifer Niebyl, head of obstetrics and gynecology at University of Iowa College of Medicine. In most cases, the symptoms are associated with a perfectly healthy baby, and they disappear by the fourth month. But some women have the symptoms longer, even lasting their whole pregnancy.

The trick is finding out what helps, although that's often easier said than done. Not only is every woman different, but so is each pregnancy. "There isn't a one-size-fits-all remedy," says Miriam Erick, a registered dietician at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and author of "No More Morning Sickness: A Survival Guide for Pregnant Women" and "Take Two Crackers and Call Me in the Morning."

Erick advises a methodical approach. Take note of any smells or tastes that set you off, and avoid them. Then experiment with foods and drinks that soothe your symptoms. Be open to what your body's telling you, not what you've heard works for others. In fact, the old standby -- crackers and ginger ale -- isn't as effective as potato chips and lemonade for many women, although Erick doesn't know why.

Show Me a Sign

Doctors still aren't sure exactly what causes morning sickness, but the most popular theory is that morning sickness is the body's reaction to the pregnancy hormone, human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which is produced at higher levels during the first trimester than at any other time during pregnancy, says Dr. Niebyl. What they -- and every woman who's had it -- do know is that it can hit you at any time of day, not just in the morning.

On some level, the nausea can be reassuring -- an early sign that a tiny human being really is growing inside of you. Carla Laszlo, 29, of Southwick, Mass., recently found out she was pregnant and a week later started to feel queasy. "I finally feel like something is happening to me," she says. "With this being my first pregnancy, I was anxious to 'feel' pregnant. Fortunately or unfortunately, I'm getting my wish."

Some studies, in fact, have indicated that women with little or no morning sickness have a higher rate of miscarriage. That's because women who end up miscarrying typically have lower levels of hCG, says Dr. Niebyl. Another theory, although widely disputed, is that morning sickness is actually nature's way of keeping women away from substances that could harm the developing fetus.

Quelling the Queasies

One principle that might help keep morning sickness at bay is that nausea is often worse on an empty stomach. So eat small, frequent meals throughout the day rather than the traditional breakfast, lunch and dinner. Keep some crackers on your nightstand to munch on before you get out of bed in the morning. If taking a prenatal vitamin in the morning on an empty stomach exacerbates your nausea, try taking it at night instead.

Bland starches, such as breads, rice or pasta, which are metabolized quickly, are often the best choices for morning sickness, says Anne Dubner, a registered dietician and nutrition consultant in Houston. So are high-protein snacks, which take longer to digest and therefore stay in your body longer. A combination of the two -- crackers with peanut butter or cheese, for instance, might be particularly helpful. Also, avoid highly spiced or greasy foods and gas-producing vegetables like cabbage.

"Whatever works, that's the rule in morning sickness, and what makes you feel good at 9 a.m. may not make you feel good at 4 p.m.," says Elizabeth Ward, a registered dietician in Boston and author of "Pregnancy Nutrition: Good Health for You and Your Baby." Don't worry about not getting enough nutrition during the first trimester if you don't have much of an appetite, either, because the nutritional needs of the fetus are still minimal.