Morning Sickness

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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What is morning sickness?

Morning sickness is a condition in pregnancy that causes nausea and vomiting during the first trimester and affects up to 50% of pregnant women. It usually starts before nine weeks of pregnancy and resolves on its own by 14 weeks of pregnancy. Although this condition is called “morning” sickness, nausea and vomiting can happen at any time of day. Morning sickness does not harm the fetus but can interfere with your everyday activities and quality of life.

Morning sickness can be one of the first signs of pregnancy and is typically diagnosed based on signs and symptoms. Some women may experience nausea for a short time each day or vomit once or twice a day. Sometimes, severe vomiting can occur because of a condition called hyperemesis gravidarum. This can lead to dehydration and may require hospitalization.

If you have morning sickness frequently, cannot get relief, or it is disrupting your quality of life, contact your doctor.

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for signs and symptoms of dehydration, which can include:

  • Change in level of consciousness

  • Confusion

  • Dark yellow urine

  • Heart symptoms, such as changes in your heart rhythm or rate

  • Little to no urine output

What other symptoms might occur with morning sickness?

Some symptoms that occur with morning sickness may indicate an underlying medical condition, such as an abdominal ulcer, food-related illness, or thyroid or gallbladder disease. These symptoms include:

Alert your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms. Your doctor will want to perform a thorough medical exam to rule out any other possible causes of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy.

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, morning sickness can be severe. This is hyperemesis gravidarum, which may require treatment in a hospital to control vomiting and prevent dehydration, which is a life-threatening condition. Seek prompt medical care if you are vomiting several times a day or cannot keep down liquids or foods. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for any signs of dehydration, which may include:

What causes morning sickness?

The exact cause of morning sickness is not known, but changing hormone levels are believed to play a significant role. Sometimes, nausea and vomiting in pregnancy can be a sign of an underlying medical condition, such as thyroid, liver or gallbladder disease. There is no way to prevent morning sickness, but staying away from strong odors, spicy foods, and foods high in sugar may help lessen morning sickness symptoms.

Morning sickness can occur in anyone, but is more likely in people who:

  • Experience nausea and vomiting from motion sickness, migraine, or certain smells and tastes

  • Are pregnant with twins or multiples

  • Had morning sickness in a previous pregnancy

When should you see a doctor for morning sickness?

Although most causes of morning sickness are not serious and the problem resolves on its own, there are times when seeing a healthcare provider is the safest option to determine the extent of the condition or diagnose potentially more serious causes.

Make an appointment with your doctor if:

  • Your morning sickness lasts more than 12 to 14 weeks of pregnancy.

  • You are having trouble finding relief from morning sickness.

In some cases, morning sickness may be a symptom of a serious condition called hyperemesis gravidarum that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting.

Seek immediate medical care if:

  • You are vomiting multiple times a day.

  • You are unable to keep any food or liquids down.

  • You are losing weight.

  • You are experiencing decreased urination or dark-colored urine.

How is the cause of morning sickness diagnosed?

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed healthcare practitioner will ask you several questions related to your morning sickness symptoms including:

  • How long have you had symptoms of morning sickness?

  • Are you experiencing any vomiting?

  • How often do you feel nauseous or vomit?

  • When do your symptoms occur?

  • Is there anything that makes your symptoms better or worse?

What are treatments for morning sickness?

Treatment for morning sickness focuses on self-care, such as diet and lifestyle changes. Taking a prenatal vitamin has been shown to lower the risk of severe nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. Drinking plenty of water and eating small, frequent meals can ensure you are staying hydrated and getting enough calories. It can also be helpful to eat bland foods, such as toast or crackers. Try to stay away from strong smells that may trigger nausea or vomiting.

What are some home remedies for morning sickness?

Your healthcare provider may recommend these over-the-counter nausea remedies:

  • Ginger

  • Salted crackers as soon as you wake up, even before you get out of bed. The salt may settle your stomach and offset nausea.

  • Vitamin B6 supplements

  • Unisom as a sleep aid

What are the potential complications of morning sickness?

In rare cases, morning sickness may be the result of a more serious condition called hyperemesis gravidarum. This condition occurs in up to 3% of pregnancies and presents as severe nausea and vomiting.

Hyperemesis gravidarum may be diagnosed if you have lost 5% of your pre-pregnancy weight or have signs or symptoms of dehydration such as:

  • Dark colored urine

  • Inability to urinate

  • Inability to keep down liquids

  • Feeling dizzy or faint upon standing

  • Having a racing heartbeat

Sometimes people with hyperemesis gravidarum need to be hospitalized and receive intravenous fluids or a feeding tube. Seek immediate medical care if you are experiencing any symptoms of hyperemesis gravidarum.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Oct 4
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