Health conditions

Morning sickness

Morning sickness is the nausea and vomiting experienced by many women during pregnancy. It affects between 70 to 85 per cent of pregnant women.

Although it is often called morning sickness you may feel sick at any time of the day. Many women (about 80 per cent) feel sick throughout the day.

Morning sickness is associated with changes in hormones levels during pregnancy.

Some women are lucky enough to not be affected by morning sickness and in others the condition can be so severe that they need to be hospitalised.

Signs and symptoms

Symptoms of morning sickness typically include nausea and vomiting, which often appear around week 5 or 6 of your pregnancy.

The symptoms can worsen at around 9 weeks but tend to improve by weeks 16 to 18.

For 15 to 20 per cent of pregnant women, symptoms continue until the third trimester and for 5 per cent of women they last until the birth.

Will morning sickness harm my baby?

Nausea and vomiting will not impact on your chances of having a healthy pregnancy. Interestingly, women who experience mild morning sickness tend to have fewer miscarriages and stillbirths when compared to those who don’t experience morning sickness.

A small number of women may experience more severe nausea and prolonged vomiting that requires medical attention. 

Speak to your midwife or doctor if you experience:

  • signs of dehydration (dark coloured urine or dizziness when you stand)
  • repeated vomiting throughout the day (especially if you see blood in the vomit)
  • pain or cramping
  • weight loss over 2 to 3 kg.

Managing morning sickness

Although we are uncertain about the cause of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy, we do know that changing your diet may relieve your discomfort.

Stay hydrated

  • If you are vomiting continuously, it is very important to drink fluids, so that you don’t become dehydrated. Drinks that contain sugar are better tolerated – sip a little bit every 15 minutes. Try sipping lemonade, cordial, electrolyte or glucose drinks, ginger beer, mineral or soda waters.
  • Suck on icy poles, frozen fruit juice, ice-blocks, frozen yoghurt or frozen flavoured milks.
  • Jelly may be easier to keep down.
  • Avoid high acid drinks like orange juice as they can irritate your stomach.

Try ginger

There is evidence that ginger works as a herbal remedy and can help to settle nausea in pregnant women. In many cultures ginger is used to relieve indigestion.

Ginger can be taken in several forms:

  • a drink made from half a teaspoon of powdered ginger dissolved in tea
  • a warm drink made from grated ginger root in a cup of hot water
  • ginger beer (non-alcoholic)
  • glace or crystallised ginger
  • ginger flavoured biscuits
  • cordial.

You can make your own ginger cordial by simmering a large crushed ginger root and two cups of water for 20 minutes. Strain this, add 1 tablespoon of honey, refrigerate and use this as a cordial with mineral water.

Choose healthy options

As your vomiting lessens, try more nourishing drinks:

  • full cream or fat reduced milk (can be) mixed with soda water
  • fruit juices, vegetable juices and nectars (dilute with water if needed)
  • nutritional supplement drinks such as Sustagen
  • milkshakes or fruit smoothies
  • soups – these may be better tolerated at room temperature, rather than very hot or very cold.

Try small amounts of food

  • Eat a small amount of carbohydrates every half hour. For example:
    • cracker biscuits
    • 1 tablespoon of rice, pasta or breakfast cereal
    • 1 teaspoon of banana or other fruit.
  • Eat a small amount of carbohydrates 10 minutes before your main meals.
  • Keep your meals small but eat more often.
  • Avoid drinking any fluids during meals.

Low fat food

Foods low in fat may be easier to digest and will help to reduce discomfort from overeating.

Include these foods in your diet:

  • dry toast with honey, jam or vegemite
  • plain salty crackers and cheese
  • jelly and custard
  • popcorn or dry breakfast cereal
  • stewed, canned, fresh or dry fruit
  • rice, pasta or noodles
  • steamed, boiled, or fresh vegetables
  • soups. 

Foods to avoid

These foods may upset your stomach:

  • fatty or fried foods
  • thick, creamy gravies or soups
  • sweet foods like chocolate, rich desserts, cakes and pastries
  • nuts and dry chips
  • strong smelling vegetables
  • coffee, tea, cocoa, cola drinks
  • spicy or rich foods
  • wholemeal and high-fibre bread. 

Other helpful hints to manage morning sickness

  • Eat small amounts of food often. Aim for 5 to 6 small meals a day.
  • Do not skip meals. An empty stomach can make you nauseous.
  • Take your time to eat.
  • Practice relaxation techniques.
  • Wear loose clothing.
  • Get fresh air, sit outside in the garden and eat.
  • Sit upright during your meal.
  • Rest after meals but avoid lying flat. Use pillows to raise your head and shoulders.
  • Chew your food well.
  • If getting up in the mornings is a problem, snack on something like dry toast or salty crackers before you rise.
  • Cook and freeze food on a good day so it is ready for your ‘off’ days.
  • If possible avoid being in or near the kitchen while food is prepared.
  • Take vitamin B6 supplements (10 to 25 mg 3 times a day) as this can reduce symptoms of mild to moderate nausea. Ask your doctor or midwife for more information.
  • Acupuncture, acupressure and hypnosis are useful for some women.
  • Give up cigarettes and avoid cigarette smoke.
  • Do not take iron tablets unless prescribed by your doctor.

More information

If you have ongoing problems with morning sickness your doctor or midwife can provide you with a referral to a hospital dietitian. 

Where to get help

  • See your doctor
  • Visit a GP after hours
  • Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222

Remember

  • More than 70 per cent of pregnant women get morning sickness.
  • There are a number of simple steps you can take to relieve the symptoms of nausea and vomiting.
  • If your vomiting becomes severe, or your start to experiencing pain or cramping, seek advice from your doctor or midwife.

Acknowledgements
Women and Newborns Health Service

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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