By Erica Favela
Nausea and vomiting of pregnancy (NVP), also known as “morning sickness,” occurs in approximately two-thirds of pregnancies. In most cases, this occurs during the first trimester, but only about half of women are free from this symptom by week 14. In most cases, it is resolved by week 22
Regardless of how sick you may feel, you can rest assured that having morning sickness is not associated with negative affects on your growing child. Although many theories about nausea and morning sickness exist, the cause of NVP is still a mystery that even our advanced scientific research has not been able to consistently conclude. It can stem from a myriad of things, including nutritional imbalance, hormonal changes, altered thyroid function, stress, emotional blocks, and lifestyle habits.
Easing nausea and the general discomfort during the beginning months of pregnancy should be handled specifically to your unique lifestyle and health history. Because we still do not have conclusive evidence about the cause, it’s worth trying multiple things. All aspects should be considered here, both physiologic and psychological factors. As is the case with many things, there’s usually not one sole culprit. Rather, self-care and dealing with these symptoms can come from a mind, body, spirit approach.
For instance, was the pregnancy a surprise? It’s natural that with such news, feelings of fear, ambivalence, resentment, or other unresolved conflicts can arise, and our emotions can take on physical manifestation. Or consider your environment - do you work in a place where toxicity exposure should be considered? Are you feeling stressed or anxious about the future? Acupuncture and acupressure have been shown to be great aids of alleviating NVP, and are also excellent ways to slow down and de-stress. While this post will only focus on nutritional aspects, be aware that food is only one part of the equation, and don’t forget to nurture your mental and emotional sides too.
Whether you’re already in the thick of NVP, or just want to know how you might handle it when the time comes, here are some nutrition basics:
Nutrient density. As previously mentioned in other posts, and probably obvious, eat a balanced, nutrient-dense, whole foods diet. This includes fresh vegetables, especially dark leafy greens, proteins, whole food fats like avocados, complex carbohydrates like summer/winter squashes, and plenty of fiber (which will naturally come in whole food form). Although nausea and vomiting are common, symptoms like these are the body’s way of coming back into balance. Eating foods that are unprocessed, organic, and in their whole form, will support the body with the raw materials it needs.
Drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration can contribute to nausea and vomiting. Aim for at least half your bodyweight in ounces, and focus on fresh water or herbal teas (not juice, coffee, sodas, or other bottled beverages). Avoid large amounts of liquid at meals, as this can dilute digestive juices. Try ginger tea right upon waking in the morning.
Aim to eat smaller meals more frequently. Eat in a relaxed state, and chew your food completely. This will help the stomach from emptying and blood sugar from dropping. Both of these are associated with nausea and vomiting. You may want to try eating first thing in the morning.
Reduce high-fat foods. During pregnancy, bile (which is used to digest fats) can reduce, making high-fat foods harder to digest and potentially causing nausea. This does not mean you need to completely eliminate fatty foods, such as pastured butter, avocado, etc. Fats will be excellent in keeping blood sugar stable, and avoiding low blood sugar is helpful in preventing nausea. If fats are causing nausea, try eating your meal/snack with sour fermented foods, which can help digest the fats.
Take a prenatal multivitamin. This can support an already-healthy diet and due to restoring certain vitamins and minerals may help reduce NVP. If this is nauseating, try taking your vitamin during or after your meal.
Ginger. Ginger is well known for its long tradition of being used for reducing nausea, and clinical trials demonstrate its effectiveness during pregnancy. When enjoying ginger, you’ll also get the bonus of its carminative effects, which helps relieve gastrointestinal distress. An easy way to enjoy the benefits of ginger root is in tea form. Grate 2-3 teaspoons of fresh ginger with hot water, adding honey and or fresh lemon juice to taste. Upon waking, sit up slowly and enjoy your tea. An alternative to fresh ginger tea, is this one by Yogi. Other great herbs to try include raspberry leaf, mint, or chamomile tea.
Snacks. Keep easily digestible snacks on hand to keep blood sugar normal.
Consider Vitamin B6. This vitamin is essential for maintaining hormonal balance, proper immune function, chemical transmitters in the nervous system, and a deficiency in this vitamin is often associated with nausea and leg cramps. Clinical studies have shown that supplemental B6 can be helpful in conditions such as premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and morning sickness. Before supplementing, get enough of this nutrient via food from salmon, cooked spinach, avocado, poultry, gluten-free whole grains, legumes, bananas, seeds and nuts, potatoes, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower. If considering supplementing, ask your healthcare provider or midwife about a high quality B6 supplement.
Vitamins K and C. The effectiveness of these two vitamins occurs with their synergy - when used together, they have been shown to be clinically effective. A study cited in The Clinician’s Handbook of Natural Medicine reports that in one study, 91% of patients had complete remission of NVP in seventy-two hours.