What to Eat When You're Pregnant and Vegetarian Common complaints and how to deal with them - Morning sickness

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If you’re suffering from morning sickness, you’re in good company: about three-quarters of women experience some feelings of nausea during pregnancy. The intensity of the symptoms can vary – about 30% of women are affected by severe nausea and vomiting. Despite being referred to as ‘morning sickness’, it can occur at any time of day. Some women find it gets worse if they are feeling tired, stressed or hungry. It can also be triggered by certain odours, such as cooking smells or strong aftershave. Generally symptoms are worst at around 9–10 weeks and disappear by around the fourteenth week of pregnancy. By the time women reach the third month of pregnancy, 90% find their symptoms have disappeared.

The exact cause of morning sickness isn’t known, but it’s thought to be related to increasing oestrogen levels and a sudden rise in human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) levels in early pregnancy. This hormone, hCG, is the same one that gives you a positive pregnancy test. Women carrying twins are more likely to suffer from morning sickness, as they have higher levels of hCG in early pregnancy.

You may worry that your baby is suffering too. However, feeling sick is actually a sign that your hormone levels are changing as they should, and although you feel awful, your baby is very unlikely to be affected. Research shows that mothers who suffer from morning sickness are just as likely to have healthy babies as those who don’t. Even if you’re feeling so sick that you can’t bear to eat a healthy meal, try not to worry. If you’re not eating very much or not managing to keep much down, your baby will simply draw on your nutrient stores. Try eating small snacks throughout the day to help keep your energy levels up, and make these as healthy as possible, but if you can’t face anything apart from plain crackers, salty crisps or sour sweets, then don’t worry. These are better than nothing. Do what you can to relieve the symptoms and when you are feeling a bit better, try to eat more healthily.

Unfortunately, the time when morning sickness is likely to be at its worst is probably before you have told other people that you’re pregnant. You may also be feeling especially emotional and still getting used to the idea of having a baby. This can be particularly difficult at work or if friends and family are expecting you to be your normal self.

There is no single treatment that works for all women, but different strategies can be helpful. You could try the following:

  • Eat little and often. By eating small, carbohydrate-rich meals or snacks every couple of hours, you can stop your blood sugar levels dropping too low, which is often what makes women feel worse.
  • Eat some dry crackers or ginger biscuits in bed before you get up in the morning.
  • Avoid foods that trigger nausea, such as fatty or spicy dishes, or foods with a strong odour. It may be better to eat certain foods cold or, if you can, get someone else to do the cooking until you’re feeling better. You could also stick to simple foods that don’t have a strong odour, such as bread or baked potatoes.
  • Avoid any other triggers. Some women find the smell of petrol, perfume or certain shops sets them off, or that travelling by bus or in the back of the car makes them feel sick.
  • Vitamin B6 supplements help some women suffering from morning sickness .
  • Have plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, which can increase your feeling of nausea and also cause headaches. It may be better to sip water or other drinks throughout the day rather than having a large drink in one go, which can make vomiting more likely. It may also help if you avoid very cold drinks or those that taste sweet.
  • Have ginger in any form possible. It’s a traditional remedy and it really does seem to help. Several trials have been conducted in Australia and Thailand in recent years to test its effectiveness. These have found that taking 1g of ginger a day (or an equivalent amount in a capsule or syrup) is effective in reducing feelings of nausea and episodes of vomiting in the majority of women.
  • Get more fresh air.
  • Find something to distract you, even if it’s just watching television or calling a friend.
  • Rest and sleep as much as possible, as tiredness makes symptoms worse.
  • Get some seasickness wristbands from a chemist. These act on the acupressure point for nausea. Some trials, though not all, have found them to be effective. You can also try stimulating the acupressure point yourself.
  • Avoid clothes that are uncomfortable around your waist such as tights or anything with a tight waistband.
  • Sip cider vinegar in water with meals or throughout the day. Put a few drops or a teaspoonful into a glass of cold or warm water. A teaspoon of honey can be added to make it taste better. There is no scientific evidence regarding whether or not it works, but there is no harm in trying. This remedy is more popular in the USA and some enthusiasts believe only unpasteurised cider vinegar is effective. However, this is not readily available in the UK and is best avoided because of the risk of food poisoning.
  • Complementary therapies are helpful for some women. You can try acupuncture, a variety of homeopathic remedies or aromatherapy, including ginger, grapefruit, lavender or peppermint oil.

How to eat ginger

  • Grate it into a stir-fry.
  • Make a soup such as carrot and ginger, pumpkin and ginger or any veg you fancy.
  • Have ginger biscuits or ginger cake.
  • Eat crystallised ginger (candied ginger) as it is, or use it in baking or in tea.
  • Have toast with ginger marmalade for breakfast.
  • Buy non-alcoholic ginger beer or ginger ale. Check ‘ginger extract’ is listed as an ingredient, otherwise it may have ginger flavouring, which probably won’t be effective.
  • Make tea with grated ginger and boiled water. Try adding honey and lemon too.
  • Get ginger chews, boiled sweets or chewing gum. Most healthfood shops sell a variety of products containing ginger.

A small number of women, around 1%, suffer from such severe vomiting during pregnancy (hyperemesis gravidarum) that they need to go into hospital. An article in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2011 questioned whether GPs in the UK should take the condition more seriously, as it is thought that better advice or treatment early on could avoid the need for hospitalisation. In the USA and Canada, severe morning sickness is treated with antihistamines and pyridoxine (vitamin B6), but in the UK, GPs don’t usually prescribe any drug treatment. If you’ve tried everything suggested here without success, then talk to your doctor about the options.

Warning – Calabash chalk, bentonite clay and Zam Zam water

Calabash chalk (also known as Calabar stone, La Craie, Argile, Nzu and Mabele) is a traditional West African remedy for morning sickness. It is sometimes imported to the UK, but the FSA has warned women not to take it because it has been found to contain high levels of lead, which could harm your baby’s developing nervous system.

Another suggested remedy, bentonite clay, should also be avoided, as the FSA has found that it, and other clay-based drinks, contain high levels of lead and arsenic. It is usually drunk with water and is readily available on the Internet. It is sold on the basis that it detoxifies the liver of chemicals that cause morning sickness. Such claims are completely unsubstantiated.

Zam Zam water, which comes from Saudi Arabia and is sacred to Muslims, is believed to have many benefits, including relieving morning sickness and making pregnancy and labour easier. However, tests carried out on water labelled as Zam Zam water in the UK, including samples brought into the country for personal use, identified arsenic levels almost three times the legal limit. Because of associations between arsenic and increased risk of several types of cancer, this too should be avoided in pregnancy.

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