Firstly, let’s all acknowledge that “morning” sickness is a misnomer…🥴❤.
I hear from pregnant women all the the time that are:
- food adverse
- low appetite
Sometimes these ill feelings can last a few weeks (long weeks) or they can last the entire pregnancy. In this post we will be looking at some physiological root causes of morning sickness, suggestions for managing your symptoms, as well as the importance of replenishing your nutrient stores in later pregnancy or postpartum.
Right off the bat, I want to say that morning sickness is not a pathology.
It is incredibly common – nearly 80% of women – experience some sort of nausea or vomiting during their pregnancy.
We are going to look at:
- potential hormonal and nutrient root causes for morning sickness
- practices that can be supportive
- optimizing health when you feel better.
However, this information is intended to inform and support our pregnancies and our health, rather than to pathologize, diagnose, and treat.
ROOT CAUSES: what are they and how to address them
The root cause of morning sickness is not always known, but here we will look at three factors known to increase the incidence of symptoms.
Did you know that estrogen-induced nausea is a thing? That’s right, having high levels of estrogen (in relation to progesterone and other hormones) has been associated with spasms of the small intestine, causing nausea and vomiting. Estrogen dominance is an often overlooked factor in many women’s health concerns, such as hypothyroidism, migraines, PMS, and endometriosis. Addressing estrogen dominance in pre-pregnancy and during pregnancy (and at any other time is our lives as women) can lower incidences of pregnancy nausea and other hormone related discomforts.
Tips for detoxifying estrogen:
- Eating enough
- Consuming high-quality protein at regular intervals
- Resting and reducing stress (more on that below in the progesterone section)
- Avoiding industrial food oils, plastics, unfiltered water, and non-organic foods
Progesterone and Vitamin A
Progesterone is one of the hormones that keeps estrogen in balance. Adequate amounts of progesterone aid in estrogen detoxification, so promoting progesterone levels goes hand in hand with mitigating estrogen dominance. In this way, boosting progesterone levels can help with blood sugars and morning sickness. And real vitamin A (found in retinol-rich foods) is an essential nutrient in the creation of progesterone.
Tips for boosting progesterone
- Eating retinol-rich foods such as liver, fatty fishes, and raw cheeses
- Eating copper-rich foods such as oysters, shiitake mushrooms, and leafy greens
- Reducing stress – stress hormones – such as cortisol and estrogen in excess – decrease progesterone levels
Vitamin B6, or pyridoxine, is an essential nutrient that has more than 150 specific functions in the body. Among these functions, B6 helps your body process fats, proteins, carbohydrates, aiding in both digestion and immune function. Low B6 levels are correlated with nausea and vomiting in pregnant women, and the correlation is thought to be due to B6’s overall role in digestive health.
It is notable that hormonal birth control depletes B6 levels in the body, so if you’re pregnant after having been on hormonal contraceptives, take extra care to build up your B6 levels. Supplement version of B6 will never be as effective as B6 coming from high quality food sources.
Foods high in B6
- High-fat, wild fish
*Having trouble keeping food down? Keep reading.
MANAGING SYMPTOMS: tips and tricks for when food isn’t your friend
Feeling naseous and struggling to keep food down? Try these four strategies.
Does your nausea ease when you rest?
Are you still doing the same amount of activity even though you are feeling exhausted?
The message here is to Slow Down.
I know this may seem simple (or not possible) but we really cannot overlook the correlation between over-doing and feeling ill. Our bodies are now the mother-baby, one organism growing and functioning together, and potentially doing all this work on a mostly empty stomach! (especially if you’re food-adverse or vomiting). By slowing down, you are not doing less. Rather, you are allocating your energetic resources to growing your baby.
When you feel a wave of nausea, sip warm water (do not chug!) and lay down. Get as comfortable as possible. Comfort will down-regulate your nervous system which can also help with nausea.
Eating Small meals regularly
Empty stomachs are more prone to spasm. Having food in our stomachs also absorbs stomach acid, which can be helpful for acid-reflux, minimizing the amount of acid that comes up through the esophagus.
Eating regularly, specifically moderate amounts of metabolic foods (check a list at the end of this article), helps maintain stable blood sugars throughout the day. When vomiting or unable to eat full meals, our blood sugar levels drop. Symptoms of low blood sugar include headache, exhaustion, anxiety, and nausea, which then continues the whole cycle.
Make an effort to eat small amounts of protein and carbohydrates regularly. It may be beneficial to separate your carb and protein foods by a few hours.
Eat two hard boiled eggs and then two hours later, eat a slice of sourdough bread with butter. This is often easier to digest than eating one egg with a piece of toast.
I often hear from moms who are concerned about their babies because the two of them are “surviving” solely on plain bagels. But don’t stress! Our bodies keep our babies safe, gathering their nutrients from our bodies, even if we can’t eat a balanced diet at this time.
However, not all carbs are created equal.
Carbs have a bad wrap for not being deeply nutritious. This not necessarily true! Many foods high in carbohydrates are also nutrient dense, and they serve a huge role in keeping our blood sugars balanced. Carbohydrates boost our blood sugars faster than other macronutrients, so if you are feeling exhausted and nauseous, carbs are often your ‘go-to’. They also help control and absorb stomach acid, which is often a cause of nausea. The key is to choose high-quality, unprocessed, complex carbohydrates.
If all you can eat is bread and butter – EAT HIGH QUALITY BREAD AND BUTTER!
Ex. try swapping cheerios for organic sourdough bread with grass-fed butter. Other good carbs to try include: sweet potato or any fruit that sounds appealing.
Try these remedies as often as you like. They can be used several times daily if needed, throughout your entire pregnancy.
- Ginger – a digestive aid and nausea soother. Try steeping a thumb-sized portion of ginger root in a mug of hot water. You could sip this tea all day. Enjoy warm or cool. Feel free to add raw honey if you like!
- Papaya extract – Think of these tablets as an alternative to Tums – that often works better. These tablets can be utilized when you have heartburn or nausea and I personally think they taste like Smarties candy.
- Umeboshi plums – These plums are pickled and come in a jar. They are salty, not sweet at all. Often nibbling on one or two, slowly, can ease both heartburn and nausea.
*you can find all of these items at your local health food store.
EATING TO RESTORE: rebuilding nutrient density in later pregnancy or postpartum
*especially if you spent the first half – or all – of your pregnancy throwing-up*
When you are feeling like you can eat a wider variety or quantity of food, focus on nutritious, metabolic foods that can help rebuild your nutritional stores. Vomiting or undereating (both common with morning sickness) can leave us feeling depleted and fatigued.
Eating to restore both hormone and nutrient balance can help you feel better faster and recover more easefully postpartum.
The hormonal blueprint that we have as mothers during pregnancy is the hormonal blueprint that our babies have at birth (more on this in a later blog post). By optimizing our hormonal balance through good food and lifestyle choices mentioned in the sections above, our babies benefit as much as we do.
Eating for hormonal and metabolic balance during the postpartum period is equally important, especially if you were nauseous your whole pregnancy and were unable to eat a diverse diet. Eating enough calories, eating frequently enough, eating a nutrient dense diet, and drinking enough water can all assist with postpartum healing as well as breastfeeding.
Likewise, if you are planning subsequent pregnancies, your care in the postpartum period is also your care in the preconception period. All of these practices can set you up for more easeful subsequent pregnancies.
Nutrient Dense, Metabolic Foods: pick the ones that appeal to you
- Grass-fed meats, specifically organs such as liver, kidney and brains
- Broths made from high quality bones, such as beef marrow bones or chicken feet
- Cold water fish, such as wild salmon, sardines and mackerel
- Oysters and other shellfish
- Shiitake mushrooms
- Leafy greens
- Berries, especially blueberries, blackberries and raspberries
- Eggs, especially the yolks (pastured with soy/corn free diets)
- Sprouted whole grains
- Iron, copper, zinc, and selenium rich foods
Learning about morning sickness and its connection to hormonal and nutrient balance can help us optimize our overall health.