Vomiting and sickness in pregnancy
Nausea and vomiting in pregnancy, also known as morning sickness, is very common in early pregnancy. It's unpleasant but it doesn’t put your baby at any increased risk, and usually clears up between weeks 12 and 14 of pregnancy.
Some women get a very severe form of nausea and vomiting, called hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), which can be very serious. It needs specialist treatment, sometimes in hospital. Find out more about hyperemesis gravidarum.
With morning sickness, some women are sick (vomit) and some have a feeling of sickness (nausea) without being sick. The term ‘morning sickness’ is misleading. It can affect you at any time of the day or night, and some women feel sick all day long.
It’s thought that hormonal changes in the first 12 weeks are probably one of the causes of morning sickness or a lack of vitamin B6 in the diet.
For most women, the symptoms of nausea and vomiting usually begin before they’re nine weeks pregnant, around six weeks after their last period. Symptoms should ease as your pregnancy progresses. In 9 out of 10 women, symptoms disappear by the third month of pregnancy. However, some women experience nausea and vomiting for longer than this, and about one woman in 10 continues to feel sick after week 20.
How common is morning sickness?
During early pregnancy, nausea, vomiting and tiredness are common symptoms. Around half of all pregnant women experience nausea and vomiting, and around three in 10 women experience nausea without vomiting.
People sometimes consider morning sickness a minor inconvenience of pregnancy, but for some women it can have a significant adverse effect on their day-to-day activities and quality of life.
Treatments for morning sickness
If you have morning sickness, your GP or midwife will initially recommend that you try a number of changes to your diet and daily life to help reduce your symptoms. These include:
- getting plenty of rest because tiredness can make nausea worse
- if you feel sick first thing in the morning, give yourself time to get up slowly – if possible, eat something like dry toast or a plain biscuit before you get up
- drinking plenty of fluids, such as water, and sipping them little and often rather than in large amounts, because this may help prevent vomiting
- eating small, frequent meals that are high in carbohydrate (such as bread, rice and pasta) and low in fat – most women can manage savoury foods, such as toast, crackers and crispbread, better than sweet or spicy foods
- eating small amounts of food often rather than several large meals, but don’t stop eating
- eating cold meals rather than hot ones because they don’t give off the smell that hot meals often do, which may make you feel sick
- avoiding foods or smells that make you feel sick
- avoiding drinks that are cold, tart (sharp) or sweet
- asking the people close to you for extra support and help – it helps if someone else can cook but if this isn’t possible, go for bland, non-greasy foods, such as baked potatoes or pasta, which are simple to prepare
- distracting yourself as much as you can – often the nausea gets worse the more you think about it
- wearing comfortable clothes without tight waistbands
If you have severe morning sickness, your doctor or midwife might recommend medication.
If your nausea and vomiting is severe and doesn’t improve after you make changes to your diet and lifestyle, your GP may recommend a short-term course of an anti-sickness medicine that is safe to use in pregnancy. This type of medicine is called an antiemetic. The commonly prescribed antiemetics can have side effects. These are rare, but can include muscle twitching.
Some antihistamines (medicines that are often used to treat allergies such as hay fever) also work as antiemetics. Your doctor might prescribe an antihistamine that is safe to take in pregnancy. See your GP if you would like to consider this form of treatment.
Ginger eases morning sickness
There is some evidence that ginger supplements may help reduce nausea and vomiting. To date, there have not been any reports of adverse effects being caused by taking ginger during pregnancy. However, ginger products are unlicensed in the UK, so buy them from a reputable source, such as a pharmacy or supermarket. Check with your pharmacist before you use ginger supplements. You can find out more about vitamins and supplements in pregnancy.
Some women find that ginger biscuits or ginger ale can help reduce nausea. You can try different things to see what works for you.
Acupressure might help morning sickness
Acupressure on the wrist may also be effective in reducing symptoms of nausea in pregnancy. Acupressure involves wearing a special band or bracelet on your forearm. Some researchers have suggested that putting pressure on certain parts of the body may cause the brain to release certain chemicals that help reduce nausea and vomiting.
There have been no reports of any serious adverse effects caused by using acupressure during pregnancy, although some women have experienced numbness, pain and swelling in their hands.
When to see a doctor for morning sickness
If you are vomiting and can’t keep any food or drink down, there is a chance that you could become dehydrated or malnourished. Contact your GP or midwife immediately if you:
- have very dark-coloured urine or do not pass urine for more than eight hours
- are unable to keep food or fluids down for 24 hours
- feel severely weak, dizzy or faint when standing up
- have abdominal (tummy) pain
- have a high temperature (fever) of 38°C (100.4°F) or above
- vomit blood
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) can also cause nausea and vomiting. A UTI is an infection that usually affects the bladder but can spread to the kidneys.
If you have any pain when passing urine or you pass any blood, you may have a urine infection and this will need treatment. Drink plenty of water to dilute your urine and reduce pain. You should contact your GP within 24 hours.
Risk factors for morning sickness
A number of different factors may mean you are more likely to have NVP. These include:
- nausea and vomiting in a previous pregnancy
- a family history of NVP or morning sickness
- a history of motion sickness, for example in a car
- a history of nausea while using contraceptives that contain oestrogen
- obesity – where you have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more
- multiple pregnancies, such as twins or triplets
- first pregnancy