Morning Sickness

Talk to any mother who’s been pregnant multiple times, and she’ll probably have multiple stories about morning sickness. For some women, it’s the same all the time. I have a friend of a friend who’s had nine children and she’s had the same “sick as a dog” feeling every time, for the same amount of time (five or six months), for every child. Now that’s perseverance!

I am one of those women who have had a different experience with each pregnancy. There was definitely something the same about them, but largely they were different intensities, frequencies, and setting-off items. There were also different onset times, ranging from just a couple days after conception (before the missed period) to up to six weeks into the pregnancy (the second missed period).  For my first pregnancy, I had the classic three-month sickness in the morning, abated by some quick saltines, and set off mostly by coffee, manure, meat, or bitter spices. I was also sick in the late evenings which I escaped mainly by going to sleep. For the second pregnancy, I had about two months of diarrhea and sensitive stomach but I thought I just had a virus because I didn’t feel nauseous. When I found out I was pregnant later, it all made sense, but it was not the classic thing. I even had diarrhea in the evening sometimes. For my third pregnancy, I only had two weeks of the classic nausea in the mornings; I barely knew I was pregnant. And I was not sick in the evening, although I wanted to fall asleep by 9pm as usual. And for my fourth pregnancy, I was sick as a dog for almost eight months, unable to sleep without waking up sick, and set off by everything all day, even the smell of my refrigerator!

So morning sickness is as varied as pregnancy: similar generally but very different specifically. There is no one-size-fits-all sickness.

I’m not a doctor, but I believe much pregnancy sickness is caused by acid in the stomach. Different things affect acid production, including stress, hormones, food type, quantity, spices, vitamins and minerals, and position. This is why the typical morning sickness is in the morning (because your stomach is emptier and therefore experiencing the affect of acid more directly, also because you digest over night, which causes acid production), but it is extremely common to have sickness at night too (your day’s amount of food has accumulated and causing the most acid production of the day). Or even overnight. Some women experience much bloating, belching, flatulence, and inability to lay flat because of acid problems. And some even have pain in their upper stomachs or heartburn. If you find tums, pepto bismol, or zantac to be helpful, this is probably why.

I have yet to figure out if there is a connection between iron in the vitamin and acid production, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Iron can definitely make you sick, especially at night when it is being absorbed into your system, and so can taking a multivitamin on an empty stomach. Don’t ever do that!

Of course other things set off morning sickness which have little to do with digestion, including smells and sensations in the mouth. One friend of mine felt it almost impossible to brush her teeth because putting the toothbrush in her mouth caused the gagging sensation. (No kissing for her either, poor thing!). And almost every mom who has sickness finds some smells disgusting that before she never used to notice. Diapers can be a source of contention if you have other children while you’re pregnant, and so can normal cooking smells, the smell of the grocery store, trash, metallic offices, or the car. One of my friends was so sensitive to dirt or dust that she had to carry around a lemon-scented mask for three or four months that she could breathe in, even as she just walked around her house! Don’t feel embarrassed… your house probably isn’t that bad (or the grocery store either). It’s just your nose… pregnancy hormones drastically increase your sensitivity to smell. They can even alter your taste buds, making them hyper-or hypo-sensitive.

Of all pregnancy problems, morning sickness is probably the most annoying. It ruins the otherwise angelic feelings you could be having about the early stage of your pregnancy. It makes your eating very functional—need-based, I mean. You may eat a lot to prevent sickness, or you may eat little. You may gain 10 pounds in the first month or have trouble gaining weight. You may throw up four times a day, or you may never throw up at all. You may be sick between 7-10am every morning or 10pm-4am every night. What is normal is what is normal for you. If things get extreme, talk to your doctor or midwife because there are things that can be done or there may be a problem they should address. But know that you are not going through anything that is not common to woman, and that there is a way to stand up underneath the burden. That is: pjs, bed, and chick flicks… as much as possible! (And a lemon-scented mask, if that’s your thing 😉 )


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