For many women, the term “morning sickness” is laughable. Just ask any mom-to-be who’s exited the dinner table looking a little greener than usual or leaped from bed at 11 p.m. to kneel before the porcelain throne.
Nausea and vomiting, that awfully unglamourous side effect linked to pregnancy hormones, can begin as early as three weeks into a pregnancy and usually dissipates by 12 to 16 weeks, although some women experience it for much longer. The worst of the nausea usually comes in the morning when the combination of pregnancy hormones and an empty stomach can make getting out of bed feel like stepping off a roller coaster. But some of us struggle with feeling much more ill at night.
Why the discrepancy? “Some women get sick later in the day if they haven’t maintained a balanced blood sugar level,” says Nicola Strydom, a registered midwife in Calgary. If you’ve eaten a lot of sweets or carbohydrates, your blood sugar might spike and crash, which can cause you to feel queasy. Not snacking between lunch and dinner can have the same effect. Sensitivity to smells may also play a part, Strydom says. Even if you manage to avoid trigger odours in the office all day, you might open your front door at 6 p.m. and walk right into a pungent wave of cooking smells wafting from your partner’s (ordinarily delicious) specialty dish. Sometimes, that’s enough to send you running to the bathroom. Or it could simply be exhaustion after a long day, which has also been found to exacerbate nausea.
Luckily, there are steps you can take to help ease the effects of nighttime sickness.
Nausea is most common on an empty stomach. Instead of three large meals, try three smaller meals with additional snack breaks in between. Almonds or low-sugar yogurt can help fend off queasiness both during your commute home and right before bed. “Something with a little bit of protein is great for keeping your glycemic index a little more balanced,” says Strydom, adding it will also make you feel full longer. Keep easy-to-grab protein-filled snacks by your bedside so you can take a nibble if you wake in the night or before you get out of bed.
Dehydration can be both the cause and outcome of nausea and vomiting. Sip on water all evening, and keep water on your nightstand.
Fried foods and fare that is high in sugars and fats are harder to digest, which can cause bloating, heartburn and acid reflux. If you’re prone to nausea, avoid them as much as possible. When you eat a carbohydrate or a sugary food, like an apple, balance it with a protein, such as cheese.
If certain smells make you want to hurl, open your windows and turn on your stove fan. Another trick: Eat your dinner cold. While that may sound unappetizing, cold food is less smelly.
Studies show ginger may help reduce nausea, so try sipping some ginger tea in the evening. An acupressure wristband, which you can pick up at a drugstore for around $15, might also help. Clinical trials published in Health Care for Women International have shown these wristbands to be 50 percent effective at keeping pregnancy-related queasiness at bay.
If you’re looking for more relief, you might want to talk to your healthcare provider about Diclectin, a combination of vitamin B6 and an antihistamine that is the only prescription drug approved for treating pregnancy nausea in Canada. It causes drowsiness, so it can also help you get some rest. However, recent reports suggest it may not be as safe as once thought—talk to your midwife or doctor about the risks and benefits. Another option is taking vitamin B6 on its own (up to 200 milligrams a day is safe), which has also been shown to relieve morning sickness.