Dear Mr. Dad: My girlfriend is about a month pregnant – her second baby, but my first. I’m concerned because she’s nauseated and vomiting all day long. She calls it “morning sickness” and says she had the same thing with her first baby and that it’s normal. But doesn’t the name imply that the problems should be limited to the morning? Either way, what can I do to help?
Given that your girlfriend has been through this before and says it’s normal, take her word for it. As the pregnancy develops, you’ll have plenty of other things to worry about, so let this one go.
The name “morning sickness” is a little catchier – but less accurate – than “all-day-long sickness.”
As you’ve noticed, the heartburn, queasiness and throwing up are by no means limited to the actual morning. Between half and 85 percent of pregnant women get morning sickness, but no one’s quite sure what causes it.
Some researchers believe that it’s the pregnant woman’s reaction to changing hormone levels, in particular human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which is produced by the placenta and is the same stuff that’s picked up by home pregnancy kits. Many women with morning sickness also have food aversions, especially to eggs, fish, meat and poultry – all of which can go bad quickly and may carry disease.
That has led a number of researchers – including Samuel Flaxman, Margie Profet and Paul Sherman – to speculate that morning sickness is the body’s way of protecting the baby-to-be from food-borne substances that could cause a miscarriage or birth defects.
The good news is that, for most women, morning sickness generally disappears by the end of the fourth month. The bad news is that there’s nothing you can do to make it go away any sooner.
But there are a few things you can do to make it a bit less unpleasant:
▪ Help her see the upside: Pediatrician Gideon Koren says morning sickness might be a positive sign: His research found that women who do not have symptoms are three times more likely to miscarry and nearly 50 percent more likely to deliver prematurely than women who do. In addition, there’s some evidence that children of mothers who have morning sickness score higher on IQ tests than mothers who don’t.
Knowing this probably won’t make your partner feel much better, but it might give her something to smile about as she’s leaning over the toilet bowl.
▪ Encourage her to drink a lot: Keep a large bottle of water next to the bed. She should avoid caffeine, which tends to be dehydrating.
▪ Be sensitive: Keep the sights and smells that make her queasy away from her. Fatty or spicy foods are frequent offenders.
▪ Encourage her to eat small meals throughout the day: Every two or three hours, if possible. Help her to remember to eat before she starts feeling nauseated. Low blood sugar can make the symptoms worse. Some doctors recommend a high-protein, high-carbohydrate diet, along with bland foods like rice, crackers and plain yogurt because they’re easy to digest and unlikely to cause nausea.
▪ Get some exercise: Some women find that even taking a walk can reduce their symptoms.
▪ If her doctor recommends it, encourage her to take prenatal vitamins and, possibly, additional vitamins B and K. For some women, though, the prenatal vitamins may actually make the morning sickness worse.
▪ Consider alternative treatments: Acupressure bands designed to prevent motion sickness might reduce morning sickness symptoms. Same with eating ginger or sniffing peppermint oil or rubbing alcohol. But check with her practitioner before she starts sniffing or eating or pressing on anything.
Armin Brott is the author of “The Expectant Father: Facts, Tips, and Advice for Dads-to-Be.”