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What You Need to Know About Morning Sickness

by Grace McCalmon

The joys of pregnancy are numerous (or so I’ve been told). Morning sickness, however, is clearly not a joyful experience. In fact, it can be pretty scary when you’re eating to feed both you and your baby and you can’t keep anything down. So we talked to the experts to find out what causes morning sickness, if you need to worry, and what you can do when it strikes.

As with the common cold, science has yet to determine what exactly causes morning sickness. According to Dr. Draion Burch OB/GYN nearly 90% of all women will experience the phenomenon, which is most likely triggered by changing levels of estrogen and human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), or the “pregnancy hormone.”

“It’s possible these aversions evolved as mechanisms to protect our offspring” says Dr. Deborah Gordon, as morning sickness is most common during the first trimester – the time when your baby is the most vulnerable. The first trimester is also the time when your body has the most nutrients available for the baby. According to Dr. Gordon, you can actually nourish a first trimester fetus with just the nutrient stores in your own body.

Of course this is not an ideal scenario, but it’s nice to know you don’t need to panic if morning sickness is really getting the best of you.

First trimester morning sickness is one of the reasons pre-pregnancy nutrition is so important according to Dr. Gordon and Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Yale School of Medicine. As the doctors point out, if you go into your pregnancy with adequate nutrient stores, your baby will be able to access those nutrients during times when food is less than appealing. This is why both doctors stress the importance of a good diet in addition to taking a prenatal vitamin if you’re thinking about getting pregnant.

If your prenatal vitamin nauseates you, try taking them before bed says Dr. Birch. Or try a more appetizing, chewable prenatal vitamin, like our SmartyPants PreNatal gummy vitamin. If you’re still getting sick, Drs. Minkin and Gordon suggest separating the individual nutrients out and supplementing with them one by one to see which ones you can stomach.

If nothing else, all three doctors agree that folate is the most important nutrient to keep down during pregnancy. Folate is needed to create new cells and babies are all new cells. Additionally, an overwhelming amount of evidence has shown that folate can help reduce the risk of serious birth defects of the spinal cord and brain. These defects can occur before many women even know they’re pregnant, so if you’re trying to get pregnant, or have stopped using birth control for any reason, you need to make sure you’re getting your folate.

The FDA recommends 800 mcg of folate per day and Drs. Minkin and Gordon agree that women should supplement with the L-methylfolate form of folate rather than folic acid. This is because in order to use folic acid, our bodies must convert it into methylfolate and some people can’t make this conversion. Taking a supplement with L-methylfolate ensures both you and your baby get 100% of the folate you need every day.

Bland foods like soup, toast, broth, and potatoes will probably be the most palatable, but you should try and incorporate some protein and fat if you can says Dr. Gordon. “You’re creating another being that needs bone, brain and muscle.” She recommends one serving of protein at least twice a day, noting that vegetarians should make sure they’re getting a variety of protein sources so they get all nine essential amino acids.

If you’re looking for supplemental relief you might be able to skip the Pepto in favor of vitamin B6, which some research has shown to be quite helpful reducing morning sickness. Drs. Minkin, Birch and Dr. Jill Carnahan all find it effective in their private practices. According to Dr. Carnahan patients can take 10-25mg every 6 hours.

Additionally, you can try ginger, which is known for its ability to help sooth stomach distress. Dr. Birch suggests ginger or peppermint tea. If you’re not a tea lover, you can try ginger root in capsules says Dr. Carnahan.

According to Dr. Birch, morning sickness is totally normal the first three months of a pregnancy. But if you’re vomiting constantly and can’t keep anything down, then you should contact your doctor.

So, good news: there’s a light at the end of your toilet! In most cases of morning sickness, there’s no need to worry, as it happens to almost everyone and will usually subside by your second trimester. But getting the nutrition you and your baby need is important, so we recommend you skip the horse pills, try a prenatal you actually want to eat, and remember to focus on protein, fat and folate. L-methylfolate that is.

Know any mamas currently struggling or about to head into their first trimester? Share this with them!


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Grace McCalmon

Grace is a certified Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) and a graduate of Duke University. She received her nutrition certification from the Nutritional Therapy Association, and her training is based on the work of Dr. Weston A Price, as well as the latest peer-reviewed, scientific research.