One of the not-so-pretty parts of the first trimester of pregnancy is good old morning sickness, which affects between 70 and 85 percent of pregnant women, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. When I got pregnant, I obviously knew that my stomach would expand to immense proportions and that I'd outgrow my favorite pair of jeans in a snap. But what I didn't know was that there would be a lot more going on in my belly than a growing baby.
Just weeks after my positive pregnancy test, I was incredibly queasy. Don't let the name "morning sickness" mislead you, since it can actually strike at any time of day or, as in my case, all day! Amazingly, this mild nausea and vomiting, which can come on at around six weeks and last up to 16 weeks, are actually signs of a normal pregnancy. Experts aren't clear about what specifically causes morning sickness, but many have theories, including an increase in hormones, low blood sugar, increased sense of smell, excess stomach acid, and/or genetics.
During my first pregnancy, I was so sick that sometimes I wondered if I was actually suffering from the flu rather than pregnancy. It's a time when you're supposed to be jumping for joy, and all I could think about was finding the nearest bathroom. Exercise actually helped me feel better, which I know sounds strange because you're moving around and heating up the body during exercise. But I remember forcing myself to get on the elliptical machine, thinking that if I'm going to be sick anyway I might as well be sick doing something good for my body. Sure enough, exercise seemed to lift the nausea. My theory on this is that exercise helps your body to relax, gets valuable oxygen flowing, and improves circulation.
The other thing that worked for me was eating. Again, it sounds like the worst thing to do when you feel nauseous, but it helped. I didn't move an inch without having an arsenal of snacks in my pocket or purse so that when the slightest wave of queasiness came over me, I could fight it with my almonds or saltines! In fact, nutrition can play a vital role in combating morning sickness. Here are some other ideas that may help:
• Eat small, frequent meals, such as peanut butter on apples or celery, nuts, or cheese and crackers. Though food may be the last thing on your mind, the acid in an empty stomach may trigger nausea, and there's something about salty foods that may settle your stomach.
- Steer clear of odors. Your sense of smell is heightened during these nine months; even smells you normally love can make you feel sick. (I had to ban my husband from using his favorite after-shave, and I couldn't go near my mother if she used scented body lotion.) I prevented this by carrying a lemon wedge in a plastic baggie at all times. When I came across a bothersome smell, I'd take a whiff of its citrus scent and feel better on the spot.
- Keep snacks on your nightstand. Keeping some crackers or pretzels by your bed and nibbling on a few before getting up in the morning can help reduce stomach acids before you even move your body.
- Stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of water between meals or even sucking on ice chips or popsicles. However, limit fluids while eating, because some experts believe the combo of food sloshing around with liquid can make you feel sick.
- Peppermint and ginger teas are known to settle the stomach, or you can simply add lemon and ginger to your beverages. And though this sounds strange, one ob/gyn I know said that many of her patients find relief from hot chocolate.
- Though it's unclear why, anecdotal evidence suggests that watermelon can keep you from feeling queasy. If fresh watermelon isn't your thing, combine frozen pieces with lemon juice in a blender and then pour the pureed mixture into ice cube trays and freeze it. Enjoy your watermelon cubes several hours later.
- Try acupressure wristbands such as those used for seasickness (available at most drugstores). They have a small plastic button that puts pressure on a point on your wrist that's said to relieve queasiness.
- Allow plenty of time for rest and relaxation. Take regular catnaps, and don't underestimate the restorative impact of just 10 minutes of shut-eye or quiet time. Often simply reducing stress helped me alleviate my symptoms.
CAUTION: If vomiting becomes extreme, see your doctor as soon as possible. This may be a sign of a severe case of morning sickness called hyperemesis gravidum that occurs in less than 1 in 200 pregnancies and may require hospitalization.
From the book Super Fit Mama by Tracey Mallett. Excerpted by arrangement with Da Capo Lifelong (www.dacapopress.com), a member of the Perseus Books Group. Copyright © 2009.