Morning sickness - nausea and vomiting in pregnancy

Here we provide information on morning sickness, symptoms and treatments. Find out more about nausea, vomiting and easing the symptoms of sickness in pregnancy.

This article covers:

What causes nausea and vomiting in pregnancy and when does morning sickness start?
Helping ease morning sickness symptoms in pregnancy

Complications of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy

Further information

What causes nausea and vomiting in pregnancy and when does morning sickness start?

The majority of pregnant women feel nauseous or sick in the early stages of their pregnancy. Morning sickness typically starts at around 6 weeks. Some women just feel a bit queasy whereas others are actually sick, sometimes a few times a day. This is sometimes known as nausea and vomiting in pregnancy (NVP), but is more commonly called morning sickness, although it can happen at any time of day.

Unfortunately, it isn’t clear what causes morning sickness. Various explanations have been put forward, including: changing levels of hormones; lack of vitamin B6; and your body trying to protect you and the baby from things like caffeine or petrol fumes (smells often make you feel worse). Women expecting twins or more are more likely to feel sick when they’re pregnant.

Whatever the reason, it’s good to remember that feeling sick is actually associated with healthy babies at birth. It’s still important to try to eat something as this generally helps with the nausea. Don’t get too hung up on what you’re eating at this stage; it’s better that you and your baby are getting something rather than nothing at all.

Helping ease morning sickness symptoms in pregnancy

A variety of strategies can help different women to ease the symptoms of nausea and vomiting when pregnant.

  • Resting as much as possible.
  • Dividing meals into more frequent snacks and smaller meals throughout the day.
  • Eating separately from drinking.
  • Eating dry foods such as toast, crispbread or a biscuit before getting up.
  • Avoiding trigger smells such as smoke, fumes and cooking odours.
  • Avoiding fatty foods.
  • Eating plain foods or eating meals cold, to avoid smells that can trigger nausea.
  • Drinking little and often.

Other strategies include sucking peppermints or ice chips and drinking plenty of water or fruit juice (even if you are sick, it is advisable to keep sipping fluids as some fluid will be absorbed).

You don’t have to have complicated, cooked meals. Something simple can be equally nutritious, such as low sugar breakfast cereal, yogurt, salads, beans on toast, cottage cheese or cold meat sandwiches, fruit, or porridge with raisins.

Some women find that they can only manage a few foods, and not necessarily nutritious ones at that. In this case it is still better to eat whatever stays down than to go hungry, as that is likely to make the sick feeling worse.

Some studies have found that taking ginger can reduce the sick feeling, but the research isn’t consistent. There is no evidence that it does any harm, so you could try ginger biscuits, root ginger as a tea with lemon or crystalised ginger and see if it helps.

If you can’t eat and feel sick most of the time, you can talk to your midwife or doctor as there are some drugs which could be considered such as pyridoxine (vitamin B6) or antihistamines. Women have also tried acupuncture and acupressure, which stimulates certain points on the body, but again, there isn’t good evidence that they are successful. 

It’s always recommended that you talk to a pharmacist before taking supplements to check whether there are any risks and always buy from a reputable supplier such as a supermarket or pharmacist.

Complications of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy

Hyperemesis gravidarum is an uncommon but serious form of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy (NVP). The symptoms of hyperemesis gravidarum are very severe and can make it impossible to keep any fluids down. Vomiting continuously can lead to dehydration and weight loss.

If your symptoms are so bad that you are unable drink at all, you should contact your doctor or midwife as soon as possible. You may be able to take anti-emetics as a short-term course.

Some women may also experience excessive saliva, known as ptyalism.

Further information

NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700. We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.

NHS choices offers information on nausea and vomiting in pregnancy and on complications of morning sickness

The HER Foundation is the world's largest grassroots network of hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) survivors has information on the condition.

Pregnancy Sickness Support is a UK charity working to improve care, treatment and support for women suffering from Nausea and Vomiting in Pregnancy (NVP) and Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG)