The information included in this post is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always consult your healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for your own situation, or if you have any questions regarding conception, pregnancy, or your prenatal treatment plan.
By Stephanie Greunke, Registered Dietitian
Food aversions and nausea plague about 80% of pregnant people during the first trimester. This can be really frustrating for those who are trying to eat a healthy, nourishing diet. While there is no one specific cause of food aversions and nausea, some of the proposed factors include increased hormone levels (specifically estrogen, progesterone, and hCG), hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), thyroid dysfunction (specifically increased serum free T4 and decreased serum TSH), a woman’s enhanced sense of smell, stress, Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection, and physiological changes of pregnancy such as delayed gastric emptying and constipation.
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
When does it happen? This common discomfort typically appears in the first trimester and usually subsides after the first trimester, but not always. It sometimes will appear again later on in pregnancy. Hopefully, with the tools we’ll provide below we can lessen that chance!
Let’s briefly talk about the name. Morning sickness isn’t an 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 person will experience the discomfort differently and to different degrees. The discomfort can range from occasional gagging at the sight, smell, or mention of food to a more advanced form called hyperemesis gravidarum. This requires management and follow-up with a provider.
Morning Sickness + Whole30
Unfortunately, food aversions are often to animal protein and raw vegetables, staples on a Whole30 diet. They can, however, apply to any food or smell. This isn’t an “I don’t like broccoli” situation. This is an “If I see or smell or hear the word broccoli you better watch out” situation. It’s not a food preference, it feels like a food crisis.
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 (and often does) derail your healthy diet. This can lead to guilt and make it hard to get back on track once symptoms subside. Know that you CAN turn this around when it passes. Know that this isn’t your fault and is a temporary departure from your normal eating. You have many months and years to start feeding yourself and your baby healthier options once the discomfort passes.
If you’re experiencing morning sickness a Whole30 is probably not the best option for you. It’s ok to stop your Whole30 or delay starting one until the second or third trimester when you start feeling better!
Tips for Managing Your “Morning Sickness”
Here are a few practical tips for navigating morning sickness:
Keep snacks at your bedside…seriously.
If you’re waking up in the middle of the night with nausea, consider the composition of your dinner and/or bedtime snack. If your dinner meal or snack is carbohydrate-heavy, this can cause blood sugar fluctuations that wake you up mid-sleep. Consider adding a mini-meal prior to bedtime to help you maintain steady blood sugar levels throughout the night. If that doesn’t help, consider keeping a light snack at your bedside (such as nuts), to help see you through until the morning.
Get out of bed slowly.
Quick movements first thing in the morning can trigger nausea. When you wake up, take a few deep breaths, slowly roll over to your side, and then gently roll out of bed. Do your best to take your time getting out of bed or even sitting up in bed. This may require you to set your alarm clock earlier or enroll someone else’s help to attend to your other kids if they’re the ones waking you and requiring immediate attention.
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 want, however, it may be just what your body needs. Consider having a light breakfast that contains protein (such as a smoothie with a compatible protein powder or a side of breakfast meat), scrambled eggs, or really, anything that you know you can keep down. If you’re not on a Whole30 this may be a grain-based option like a bagel (make sure to add some healthy fat like nut butter or ghee) or yogurt.
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 may ease your symptoms and will also help you stay hydrated. If hot tea doesn’t sound good, you can have it iced or try a few ounces of carbonated water or ginger kombucha (if that works for you and your provider approves). 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 chews or capsules, with provider approval.
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. Low blood sugar can trigger nausea. It’s important to keep an eye on the frequency and composition of your meals. You may find it helpful to have smaller meals throughout the day spaced three hours apart, instead of eating three large meals. Keep emergency food in your purse, office and car. This way, you won’t get caught without any healthy options when hunger strikes.
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. Pay attention and 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, 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 strategies above, you may want to consider alternative therapies like herbs and supplements, acupuncture, and 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, 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, and always run new supplements past your provider.
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.
There is an encouraging silver lining to morning sickness. Researchers have found that those 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! This theory is simply a nice way to look at a hard situation and every situation is different. We see you and know you’re doing your best!
Want more support? Check out our Whole30 forum for more suggestions and strategies from other Whole30 parents.
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Master of Science in Nutrition, Registered Dietitian and Nutritionist, Certified Personal Trainer, Certified in Perinatal Mental Health