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Dear Stephanie, Help! I’m dealing with morning sickness, but I still want to eat Whole30-inspired meals. How can I soothe this nausea without resorting to unhealthy foods? – Mamas on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter
Dear Mamas, This is one of the most common questions I get from moms, and for good reason. This particular pregnancy discomfort affects about 80% of pregnant women. If you’re suffering, please know that you’re not alone and you will get through this. Let’s address what “morning sickness” actually is, and a few of my favorite strategies for combating it.
An Inadequate Name For A Common Problem
This discomfort typically appears in the first trimester, and it is likely due to rapidly rising levels of hormones, particularly human chorionic gonadotropin. It usually subsides after the first trimester, but not always, which can be infuriating for mamas who struggle with it for most of their pregnancy.
Morning sickness isn’t a very accurate name, since nausea and vomiting can happen anytime throughout the day or night. Basically, there is no “normal” when it comes to this “all-day sickness” during pregnancy. Every woman will experience the discomfort differently.
Some women also experience intense food aversions during pregnancy. Often, the aversion is to animal protein and raw vegetables, but can apply to any food or smell. This isn’t a “I don’t like broccoli” scenario. This is a “If I see or smell or hear the word broccoli someone is going to die” situation. It’s not a food preference, it’s a food crisis. For more about how to deal specifically with food aversions, read this article from Melissa Hartwig of the Whole30 about her personal experience navigating food aversions.
If you’re trying to eat a Whole30-inspired diet throughout your pregnancy, this nausea and discomfort has the potential to be more than just an uncomfortable symptom. It can derail your healthy diet, lead to guilt, and make it hard to get back on track once symptoms subside. It’s tough on an emotional and physical level, so knowing how to manage the discomfort is incredibly helpful.
Tips for Managing Your “Morning Sickness”
Here are a few of my practical tips for dealing with morning sickness. If you need more support, these are all outlined in greater detail in the Whole30 Healthy Mama, Happy Baby program. Members of our HMHB program also have access to an archived webinar where I discussed a game plan for managing this pregnancy symptom. Click here to join today!
Keep snacks at your bedside…seriously. If you’re waking up in the middle of the night with nausea, the first thing to consider is the composition of your dinner and/or bedtime snack. If the meal or snack is carbohydrate heavy, this can cause blood sugar fluctuations that wake you up mid-sleep. Consider adding a protein and fat rich snack prior to bedtime to help maintain steady blood sugar levels. If that doesn’t help, consider keeping a light snack at your bedside, to help see you through until the morning.
Get out of bed slowly. Most mornings you probably hear the alarm clock go off (or your toddler screaming for your attention) and immediately spring into action, getting out of bed faster than your body would prefer. Quick movement first thing in the morning can trigger nausea in some women. Instead, upon waking, take a few deep breaths, slowly roll over to your side, and gently roll out of bed.
Eat first thing in the morning, focusing on protein. If you deal with nausea as soon as you get out of bed, breakfast may be the last thing you consider. However, it may be just what your body needs. Consider having a light breakfast that contains protein (such as a smoothie with protein powder or Vital Proteins collagen peptides, scrambled eggs, or grass-fed, unsweetened, organic yogurt if well tolerated) to see if that helps.
Stay hydrated (and try ginger). When nothing is sitting well in your stomach, you may forget to drink enough water, which can exacerbate symptoms. Sipping on ginger, peppermint, or chamomile tea can possibly ease your symptoms and will also make sure you stay hydrated. If hot tea doesn’t sound good, you can ice your tea or even try a few ounces of bubbly carbonated water or ginger flavored kombucha. If you’re not into liquids but still want to see if the benefits of ginger might soothe your nausea, you may consider supplementing with ginger capsules.
Keep your blood sugar levels stable and consider eating smaller meals spaced evenly throughout the day. Low blood sugar can happen as a result of skipping meals, waiting too long in between meals, consuming too many refined sugars, or not having a good balance of protein, fat, and carbs at meals. Since low blood sugar can trigger nausea, it’s important to keep an eye on your eating frequency and the composition of your meals. You may find it helpful to have smaller meals throughout the day spaced two to three hours apart, instead of eating three large meals. Keep emergency food in your purse, office and car so you don’t get caught without any healthy options when hunger strikes.
Our Healthy Mama, Happy Baby Kit from Barefoot Provisions includes several fantastic emergency food options.
Avoid cooking meals with strong smells and consider eating blander foods. You’ll quickly figure out if certain cooking smells are a trigger for you, so pay attention and choose to omit those foods from your repertoire. Consider asking your partner to take over cooking responsibilities while you go for a walk to avoid the odors. Focus on eating food that is bland and lightly season your meals with the sauces, herbs, and condiments you know you can handle. Also, avoid dining out at restaurants if certain smells trigger your symptoms.
Get fresh air. There’s something about fresh air that can really help ease the stomach. Get outside as much as you can, especially when symptoms strike. If that’s not possible (due to weather or work restrictions), consider opening a window or investing in a small desk fan. You might find it helpful to combine fresh air therapy with a whiff of peppermint essential oil for quick relief.
Exploring Alternative Therapies
If you’re still struggling with nausea after trying the stratgies above, you may want to consider alternative therapies like herbs and supplements, acupuncture, acupressure. Certain herbs and supplements can soothe your stomach and act as a first-line therapy before resorting to prescription or over the counter medications. Be sure to speak to your healthcare provider about which of these treatments might be right for you.
Supplement with B6. A dosage of 25 mg of B6 every 8 hours is commonly suggested to pregnant women by doctors. (In fact, Diclegis®/Diclectin®, a common drug prescribed to women dealing with nausea and vomiting in pregnancy, contains vitamin B6 and doxylamine, which is an antihistamine that also acts as a sedative). If you’re taking supplements, take them with your meals.
Look into acupressure and acupuncture. Some women find relief from morning sickness through these types of alternative therapies. Specifically, there is a pressure point located three finger breadths below the wrist on the inner forearm (known as PC6), that may help relieve nausea.
Work on a care plan with your doctor. If nothing seems to be helping or if you think you’re dealing with a more extreme form of morning sickness (hyperemesis gravidarum), make sure you contact your healthcare provider to make sure you’re able to get all of the nutrients, hydration, and support you need.
Here’s an encouraging silver lining: researchers have found that pregnant women who suffer from nausea during the first trimester are less likely to miscarry or have a premature birth. Does this mean you won’t have a healthy baby if you don’t have “all day sickness”? Absolutely not … I escaped having any nausea during my pregnancy and my baby was incredibly healthy and born after his “due date.” But, this theory is simply a nice way to look at a hard situation.
If you’re interested in hearing more about strategies to manage morning sickness and other common pregnancy complaints, make sure to check out our Whole30 Healthy Mama, Happy Baby program. In our Healthy Mama, Happy Baby program, we discuss these issues in more detail in a supportive environment filled with other mamas dealing with the same thing. You’ll also have access to our free monthly webinars where we discuss this topic and more!
Stephanie Greunke is a registered dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition who specializes in women’s health. She is a certified personal trainer and prenatal and postnatal corrective exercise specialist. Stephanie guides and supports women locally and globally through her web-based private practice, RockYourHormones.com.