I’ll never forget the moment my favourite foods began to turn my stomach. The smell of roasting garlic, once something that made my mouth water (hungry or not), now made me feel entirely queasy. Enter the lovely…… morning sickness.
Morning sickness affects approximately 80% of pregnant women and its exact medical cause remains unclear. (1) One theory suggests that the high mount of pregnancy hormones (primarily HCG) circulating in the first trimester may be to blame, however this theory remains unproven. (1) According to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), pregnancy is thought to cause a Yin deficit in the female body as most of the Yin energies are going to building a healthy baby. This leaves a relative Yang excess. Yang energy rises and is meant to help hold the baby in the womb preventing miscarriage. However, according to TCM this excess Yang energy also may contribute to ‘rebellious’ or ‘rising ‘Qi and is thought to be one of the reasons pregnant women experience nausea, heartburn (rebellious stomach Qi) and headaches.
Whatever the cause, morning sickness is often very difficult to deal with, especially with the many responsibilities of modern lifestyles. On the bright side, I was lucky enough to experience only about 4 weeks of pregnancy associated nausea, weeks 7-10 were the worst for me. However, I was unlucky enough to have constant, all day long ‘morning’ sickness. Additionally, this period of my pregnancy fell 2 weeks before my 2 week long final exam period. GREAT! Needless to say I found as many tips and tricks to ease my nausea as I could and I want to share them with you today.
I found ginger tea and Gin Gins Ginger Chews so helpful for my nausea. Ginger has been used traditionally for many generations to help with indigestion and pregnancy associated nausea. I found that having pure ginger tea bags in my purse and Gin Gins in all my bags, my car, my bedside table (basically all over the place) was a life saver. If I was having a bout of nausea I’d either make a tea in my travel mug or pop a Gin Gin in my mouth for some instant relief. For more about ginger I posted previously on this excellent herb and its many other uses here. As with all herbs, especially during pregnancy, never take ginger as a supplement (capsule, tincture etc) without the advice of a licensed health care practitioner.
My intern at the Robert Schad Naturopathic Clinic was so helpful during my first trimester. For my nausea in particular she prescribed Sepia, a homeopathic remedy that is famed for its use in morning sickness. As with all homeopathic remedies however, you have to have your own symptoms assessed by either your ND or a homeopath to find your individual remedy. For me, I really fit the Sepia picture of morning sickness: worse with the smell of cooked food (especially frying food), worse with cooked food (I literally ate nothing warm or cooked for a whole month), nausea that is better while eating but not before or after, nausea that is better with vigorous exercise. This symptom picture is odd but it was exactly my experience with morning sickness. While I was feeling super fatigued for most of my first 12 weeks, when I was able to exercise my nausea was 10x better. I began to take Sepia as needed, diluted in a water bottle and I found it helped to reduce the intensity and frequency. There are several different homeopathic remedies that are well known for morning sickness, so for those of you who have an ND or homeopath I’d definitely suggest having them find the best fit for your experience.
3. Eat Small, Often & Healthy
Feeling nauseous makes even the thought of eating difficult. However, for me an important trick was to make sure I ate something small every 2-3 hours max. I was fortunate, I only actually vomited 2-3 times during my first trimester, I really think eating frequently helped in that department. I found if I waited more than 2 hours to eat (even something small like a few almonds or grapes) I would feel my nausea much more intensely. Baby making is hard work! In the first trimester the placenta is under serious construction, once you reach the second trimester this structure will support and nourish baby. Allowing fluctuations in blood sugar by waiting too long between meals/snacks really triggers nausea for many people during the early stages of pregnancy. It is equally important to manage blood sugar with healthy snacks and not to pick high glycemic index foods like refined carbs, sweets etc that will cause a spike and fall in blood sugar. I found that it was important to eat healthy fats and protein whenever I could. Some of my favourite morning sickness friendly snacks were: almonds, cashews, avocado, cheese (if you can do dairy), greek yogurt (or a dairy free alternative if you need it). While these were palatable and small in portion, they gave me some much needed protein, fat and nutrition to help stave off that nausea. Ofcourse, I also incorporated lots of fruit and veggies (all uncooked for me as I really couldn’t tolerate anything hot). I know that often people crave bland carbs, on occasion this happened for me as well. I chose whole grains to ensure that I was avoiding blood sugar spikes and always included some protein and fat (almond butter on whole grain toast etc). One more helpful tip for me was to eat something before bed – a handful of nuts and a piece of fruit – to avoid waking during the night due to nausea.
4. Add Sour Foods
I think baby and I ate a mango and or a grapefruit everyday during my first trimester. These two things were my BIGGEST cravings. Pomegranate was also up there on my list, but to my chagrin they were not in season. I was curious about my cravings and after a little research I came across the TCM five flavours theory. The astringency of sour foods is considered a digestive aid and reduces nausea – perhaps this was knowledge my body had even before my brain!?
5. Break Up Your Vitamins
Sometimes prenatal vitamins can be alot to process when your stomach is already uber sensitive. I found taking half the dose with my breakfast and half the dose with my dinner REALLY helped to reduce nausea. And I could NEVER take my vitamins on an empty stomach.
While I truly believe that exercise is very important to a healthy pregnancy, not getting enough rest or pushing too hard while your body is still getting used to being pregnant can truly exacerbate morning sickness. My best advice to myself during this time was to listen to my body. Some days I knew I couldn’t work out, other days I would start and then instead of continuing my jog, I’d just walk. This is ok and HEALTHY. Nap when you feel tired, take a day off when you feel run down; pushing to the limits is ok every now and again, but not while your body is so hard at work creating life. Be gentle with yourself.
6. PC 6
Pericardium 6 is an acupuncture/acupressure point on the wrist. This point runs along the pericardium meridian and is located 2 cun (a TCM measurement) above the wrist crease between the two most noticeable tendons (palmarus longus and flexor carpi radialis tendons). This point is specifically indicated for nausea, vomiting and morning sickness as it helps to harmonize the stomach and direct Qi downwards in the upper and middle burners (think back to my earlier mention of rebellious or rising Qi in pregnancy).(2) Applying pressure to this point in the midst of nausea worked wonders for me. An easy way to find the point is to place your index, middle and ring fingers at the wrist crease, this will place you somewhere in the vicinity of PC6. You’re TCM doctor or ND will likely include this point in your acupuncture treatment if you are suffering from morning sickness. However, you can also simply apply pressure to the point with your opposite hand to activate the meridian.
During my first trimester I ended up adding a fourth supplement to my regime: B6 (pyridoxine). This was done under the supervision of my intern at the clinic – it is always integral (especially during pregnancy) to make sure you get dosing and approval of supplements from a licensed practitioner (ND, MD etc). I was first exposed to the research on B6 in my second year Clinical Nutrition course. It shocked me to learn that the American College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (ACOG) lists vitamin B6 as a FIRST LINE treatment of pregnancy associated nausea and vomiting, yet so few of the pregnant women or mothers in my life had heard of using it.
The 2004 ACOG Practice Bulletin: Clinical Management Guidelines for Obstetrician-Gynecologists states that:
“Treatment of nausea and vomiting of pregnancy with B6 or B6 plus doxylamine is safe and effective and should be considered first-line pharmacotherapy.” (3)
In addition clinical trials have also shown that B6 supplementation during pregnancy may reduce the risk of cardiac malformations (4) and offer protection of the vascular bed of the placenta leading to higher birth weights of both baby and placenta (5).
8. Keep ‘Things” Moving
Progesterone. A hormone integral to pregnancy but also associated with many of those ‘pesky’ and uncomfortable pregnancy symptoms. Progesterone promotes relaxation of our musculature to accommodate the growth of the uterus and our bellies. It also helps the joints to loosen so our pelvis can also widen upon delivery. However, this also means our digestive tracts relax and the peristaltic waves that keep our foods moving through our intestines slow down. This contributes to constipation, which in turn only makes morning sickness worse. While we cannot avoid the action of our hormones, eating plenty of fruits and veggies (think FIBRE) and staying hydrated can help to prevent constipation. I also bought some dried prunes and had them on hand all throughout trimester 1, they really do work wonders in terms of preventing constipation.
Equally important is staying active! Yes, you can still exercise (on the OK of your health care practitioner ofcourse) throughout your pregnancy. If you were very active pre-pregnancy you can likely keep your routine the same as long as you are careful not to overheat. If you were not so active pre-pregnancy you can change that, but you will want to get advice from your ND or GP and stick to gentle activities like walking, swimming or yoga (not hot yoga though unless you were an avid Moksha girl pre-pregnancy). Staying active helps to flush toxins as well as to keep the GI tract moving. I actually found that when I was able to combat my fatigue and go for a jog, my bowels thanked me big time!
There are many tricks to help your body naturally adapt to pregnancy – remember that as a woman you are more than fully equipped to create life and feel great doing so! Yes, there are aches, pains and ugh…. nausea. But, there are many small changes that may help to make things more comfortable so you can focus on the amazing feelings associated with bringing a new life into the world.
Reminder: this post is not meant to be construed as medical advice, but only as informational and based on personal experience. You should never enter into any treatment protocol/supplementation/exercise without the advice of a licensed naturopathic doctor or other health care practitioner. For more clarification on this please refer to the disclaimer at the bottom of this page.
2. Kassam N. & Gowan M. (2009). Fundamentals of Clinical Acupuncture. Toronto: CCNM Press.
Photo credit 4: Muffet / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)
Photo credit 7: LaVladina / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)