Feeling nauseous is often the first sign of pregnancy. The term “morning sickness” is actually a misnomer, as nausea can strike at any time. And the extent of the sickness can range from mild queasiness to hours of bowing down before the porcelain goddess. Up to 85% of moms-to-be experience nausea symptoms during pregnancy, usually starting 4-8 weeks after conception and subsiding in the second trimester.
Though nausea can be one of the most dreaded symptoms of pregnancy, it does not harm your baby and might even be an indicator of a healthy pregnancy. Nausea in the first trimester appears to be linked to the production of the human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) hormone (often referred to as the pregnancy hormone), which is produced once the fertilized egg attaches to the uterine lining. As hCG levels rise, these hormonal changes can trigger a domino effect of heartburn, indigestion, and slower digestion. If you’re suffering from a temperamental tummy early on in pregnancy, read on for our recommendations on what to eat, drink, and do to manage your morning, mid-day, or night nausea.
What to Eat
The first trimester of pregnancy can sometimes feel like survival mode, sending you into battle with either nausea or fatigue. Smell aversions might make it difficult to stomach any food, but then an empty stomach can cause a build-up of acid and hunger pangs. Make these smart food choices to ward off nausea:
Bland is Best.
Try to avoid foods that have strong rich flavors and creamy dishes, since they might make nausea worse or even induce vomiting. When you’re feeling not quite right, stick to foods that are metabolized quickly, such as dry, bland starches. For a quick meal, try buttered toast, baked potato, plain rice, salty noodles, or fortified cereals. And for a snack, grab crackers, pretzels, or chips.
Pack in the Protein.
Proteins are loaded with amino acids, which are essential building blocks for your growing baby. Because high-protein foods take longer to digest, they stay in the body longer, making for a happier belly. Snacking on nuts or cheese sticks throughout the day might ward off symptoms of nausea. Eggs in any form - if you can get beyond the smell - are an “eggcellent” meal during pregnancy because they can both keep you sated and confer the cognitively beneficial nutrient choline to your baby.
Try Nature’s Cures.
There are a number of nausea remedies derived from nature that are safe to use during pregnancy. With roots in Southeast Asia, ginger has a long history of use as a treatment for stomach problems. Its bioactive compounds, such as gingerol, paradol, and shogaol, are believed to interact with the central nervous system to relieve nausea. Besides adding dried ginger root to your meals, you can find edible ginger in the form of ginger snaps, ginger lozenges, and crystallized ginger candy. Peppermint is also believed to have therapeutic benefits for the stomach. Mix fresh mint in your water, sniff mint leaves, suck on peppermint candies, or chew peppermint gum to soothe an upset stomach.
Reap the Fruits of Your Labor.
Fruity foods have a mild, sweet taste and are gentle on the stomach. Some women find the smell and taste of lemon to be effective in warding off nausea. Try adding lemon slices to your water, and if you can’t stomach the taste of lemon, sniff fresh lemons or lemon essential oil. Unsweetened applesauce is both a good source of carbs and nutrients and a time-honored treatment for an upset stomach. Packed with potassium, bananas are another easily-digestible, nutritious snack for when you’re feeling sick. Even artificially-flavored fruity treats, such as citrus candies, lemon sorbet, and gummy fruit snacks, tend to ease feelings of nausea.
Stress Less about Nutrition.
Don’t worry if your dietary choices are limited and you aren’t reaching for healthy foods in the first trimester. Your baby doesn’t have significant nutritional needs in this stage of development. As long as you began your pregnancy at a healthy body weight, you should have a sufficient reserve of vitamins and minerals for the both of you. And as your appetite returns later in pregnancy, you should be able to consume more nutritious foods.
What to Drink
While an empty stomach can be nausea-inducing, insufficient fluids can be downright dangerous. Staying hydrated is especially important if your nausea triggers vomiting. Your goal should be to drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of liquid each day. But what if water makes you queasy or you have trouble keeping anything down? Try these tips:
Hydrate Outside the Box.
Water will always be the gold standard of drinks in normal times. But when you’re struggling to maintain a healthy level of hydration and feel repulsed by water, practically anything goes in the liquid department (apart from caffeine and alcohol, of course). Try not to drink too much at once, which can bring on vomiting, and avoid large quantities of water at mealtime, which can dilute stomach acid needed for digestion. Experiment with carbonated drinks, such as flavored seltzer water, ginger ale, or regular Coke, and juices, such as lemonade or apple juice, to find what works best for you. The sugar in these drinks might give you a much-needed pep, but don’t go overboard with sugary drinks. If you’ve been vomiting, it’s crucial to replenish lost electrolytes, so try sports drinks, oral rehydration solutions, or coconut water.
Eat Your Drinks.
If you’re having a hard time stomaching fluids, try rehydrating with foods that have a high water content. Start your day with slices of watermelon or grapefruit, both of which are made up of over 90% water, to easily contribute to your daily fluid count and build your immune system with antioxidants. Broth-based soups are a good source of both nutritious calories and replenishing hydration. When you’re craving something sweet, suck on popsicles made with real fruit to sneak in some extra liquid and ward off waves of nausea.
Look to Nature (Again).
Made from the roots, berries, flowers, seeds, and leaves of a variety of plants, herbal teas have long been used to manage nausea and vomiting. True herbal teas are naturally caffeine-free, and most commercial brands of herbal tea are considered safe for pregnant women to consume in reasonable amounts. Lemon balm, peppermint leaf, and red raspberry leaf teas, in particular, contain herbal properties that can be beneficial during pregnancy. Hailing from Ayurvedic medicine, Indian gooseberry (amla) juice, which has a sweet-and-sour flavor and is high in nutrients, is a time-tested remedy for keeping heartburn at bay. Always check with your doctor if you have questions about the safety of a new food or drink during pregnancy.
What to Do
Besides eating and drinking the right things, you can change certain habits to ward off feelings of nausea and boost your overall well-being in the first trimester. Getting plenty of rest is one of the most important things you can do for your body. Listen to your body when you are feeling run down and take naps to restore your energy, but try to avoid lying down within a half hour after eating. When you feel a wave of nausea approaching, take deep, cleansing breaths and try to get outside for some fresh air. In addition, try following these simple tips:
Graze All Day.
Instead of following a traditional three square meal plan, spread out smaller meals throughout the day so your tank never gets too low. Keep a salty snack like Ritz or Saltine crackers by your bedside for quick relief if your nausea tends to strike in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning. Also, pack an emergency stash of snacks in your bag when you leave the house so you’ll always have something to nibble on if you sense nausea. Avoiding an empty stomach is key to avoiding feelings of nausea.
Take Your Vitamins.
When you’re already struggling with queasiness, the last thing you need is for your prenatal multivitamin to irritate your stomach. But some prenatal vitamins are designed to break down earlier and expose their nutrients to harsh stomach acids, causing gas or tummy trouble. Others contain too much iron, which can trigger nausea. Ask your doctor to recommend a prenatal vitamin with a delayed-release capsule and an optimal amount of iron for a sensitive stomach. Also, check with your doctor if you can take a vitamin B-6 supplement, which has proven to mitigate nausea. Always take your vitamins with food.
Know When Enough is Enough.
You might be inclined to tough it out no matter how severe your nausea gets, but don’t! Being unable to keep food or fluids down for too long can lead to dangerous weight loss or dehydration. If the remedies above do not work, your nausea symptoms intensify, or they last beyond the fourth month of pregnancy, call your doctor to discuss your treatment options.
There isn’t a one-size-fits-all diet plan or universal natural prescription, since everyone has different tastes and reacts to nausea remedies differently. While keeping in mind our general suggestions, remember to pay attention to what triggers your own nausea and what seems to alleviate it. Identifying a pattern and tailoring a treatment for your body will give you the best results. Sign up for our free mobile app for more advice on overcoming pregnancy challenges!
With Warmth and Wellness,
Your EmmaWell Team