You took the test, confirmed it with your doctor or midwife, celebrated (or had a big come-to-Jesus moment) with your partner, and now reality is starting to hit: you’re pregnant…
…and you’re not feeling so hot.
The symptoms, or more accurately: the challenges of early pregnancy are usually most intense during the first trimester, and can include intense nausea and food aversions…and a host of embarrassing digestive issues.
And since biology tends to have a wicked sense of humor, the first trimester is also the most delicate time for your unborn baby.
Thus, you’ll want to avoid taking anything— drug, herb, etc.—that has not been proven exceptionally safe for mother and baby.
That said, there’s no need to curl up in the fetal position and suffer through it either!
Which is why we’re delighted to share our favorite safe and natural solutions for your first trimester woes.
Nausea AKA “Morning Sickness”
Nausea and vomiting of pregnancy (NVP), also known as “morning sickness” (or as we, and 98% of other mamis have found it can be: “anytime sickness”) during your first trimester is very common and affects about 70-80% of pregnant women.1
Although considered a “normal” part of pregnancy, NVP increases the likelihood of having complications like high blood pressure and preeclampsia.2 And the negative impact on mood and quality of life is very real.3
However, the good news is two-fold:
#1: NVP is often a good sign that your body is producing plenty of pregnancy hormones, which may mean a lesser chance of miscarriage (up to 75% less in women with a history of miscarriage.4) It’s also associated with other favorable outcomes like a deceased chance of low birth weight and small for gestational age.5
#2: For the majority of women it only lasts a few harrowing weeks. Symptoms can begin as early as 2–4 weeks after fertilization, peak between 9 and 16 weeks and generally resolve by week 226…
…but man does it suck to be in that 70-80% during that time!
So, to treat nausea we need to look at the cause, right? Well, herein lies the kicker.
While there are many theories out there, medical science hasn’t figured out exactly why some women get it and some don’t. What we do know is it’s likely a combination of factors like genetics, hormones, changes in gut motility, serotonin, etc.7
We can attest to this based on our personal experience and what we’ve seen in practice. For example, we’ve treated some of the most health-conscious mamis for some of the worst cases of nausea, while the less-than-health-conscious just sail on through.
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We’ve also found that there are some tried and true natural remedies and lifestyle changes to seriously ease-the-quease:
- Support your liver—since one of your liver’s functions is to process and conjugate hormones, it can get overwhelmed in your first trimester. This can lead to feelings of fatigue, nausea, and even moodiness. The best ways to help unburden your liver during pregnancy are to eat plenty of leafy green vegetables, drink lemon water in the morning, drink green drinks (if you can handle it, if not focus on the veggies), avoid too much sugar and processed foods, and temporarily lowering your intake of fatty foods…especially fried foods and unhealthy fats.8
- Focus your fat-calories on moderate amounts of healing fats—including coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, fatty fish, nuts and seeds, and butter—preferably from pastured cows. How much fat should you consume? You’ll have to experiment, but try cutting back by at least 50% for at least a week and see how you feel. It’s okay to cut it by more, you’ll make up for it later. And be sure to continue taking your omega 3s/essential fatty acid supplements for baby’s brain development.
- Eat small, frequent meals with protein—this helps keep your blood sugar stable which will help prevent nausea.9 Healthy proteins include nuts, seeds, eggs, meats, beans, legumes, and possibly some types of high-quality pure protein powders. If sickness tends to hit you in the mornings, we also recommend eating a small protein-rich snack before bed.
- Avoid defaulting to processed foods which can actually increase nausea—when it’s hard to stomach anything we tend to reach for carbs (you’re not alone). Try to stick to unprocessed options like a baked potato, sweet potato or apple, and pair carbs with a little bit of protein. A birth cohort study of 2270 participants found nausea increased when women decreased their intake of healthy foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, etc. and increased their intake of processed foods like white bread and sugar.10 So much for ginger ale and soda crackers, huh?
- Ginger—ginger can be helpful for nausea and is safe to take during pregnancy. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology recommends it specifically for NVP.11. While there is not a standardized dose of ginger for NVP, studies have found that up to 1,500 mg of ginger daily can provide relief.12. Some of our patients have had great success with these ginger capsules. For a healthier take on ginger ale, try mixing freshly grated ginger with lemon, stevia and Gerolsteiner sparkling water.
- Vitamin B6—This water-soluble vitamin has been proven in randomized, placebo-controlled trials to be effective for NVP.13,14 We often recommend activated B6 (aka Pyridoxal-5′-phosphate or P5P) to our patients. Side note: Your OB or Midwife may recommend taking B6 with Unisom SleepTabs, an over-the-counter medication which contains doxylamine (an antihistamine). According to some studies, the combination reduces symptoms by 70%.15
- Vitamins K3 and C—This lesser known remedy was published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 1952. According to the author, vitamins K3 and C—when used together—eliminated NVP in over 90% of women. Merkel simultaneously gave oral vitamin K3 (5mg of menadione bisulfite) and vitamin C (25 mg of ascorbic acid).16 The problem is—finding a high-quality Vitamin K3 supplement is next to impossible!
- Hypnosis—it may sound strange, but hypnosis has been proven effective for pregnancy-related nausea.17 You can either see a hypnotherapist or learn self-hypnosis techniques at home. We like Hypnobabies for this, or there are other free tracks available online.
- Acupressure—the acupressure point known as “pericardium 6” or “P6” has been shown in several studies to significantly decrease nausea during pregnancy.18 This point is located on your inner arm near your wrist. Click here for a quick how-to tutorial from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.
- Acupuncture—Traditional Chinese Medicine has also been proven effective for nausea and many other pregnancy maladies. Acupuncture alone is helpful, and a Doctor of Oriental Medicine can also customize a pregnancy-safe herbal formula to help further combat nausea. One of our patients swore by the Chinese herbal formula: Ban Xia Xie Xin Tang for her intense anytime sickness, but check with your practitioner first and be sure to use a reputable brand that tests for heavy metals.
- Get plenty of rest and reduce your stress levels—this means going to bed by 9PM and shelving any non-essential commitments. If you can’t avoid a stressful situation, like moving or the death of a loved one, take extra measures to destress during the day with meditation, exercise, spending time outdoors, laughing, deep breathing, etc.
- Lemon essential oil—while most of us turn to peppermint or ginger, lemon essential oil has been shown to reduce nausea during pregnancy by up to 33%. 19 Plus, citrus essential oils are great mood-boosters. To use, just sniff directly from the bottle whenever you feel nauseous. If you need to be discreet, place a few drops on a tissue. This can be a life-saver while driving or at work.
When is nausea serious in pregnancy?
If you have severe debilitating nausea that doesn’t go away, you may have what’s known as hyperemesis gravidarum. This is an entirely different condition than nausea and vomiting in pregnancy (NVP), and can cause serious complications for mother and baby if left untreated.20 See your OB or Midwife straight away if you suspect hyperemesis gravidarum.
Food aversions in pregnancy
There’s not much you can or need to do for food aversions, except listen to your body and follow the advice above for nausea.
Many experts theorize food aversions in pregnancy are an evolutionary protective mechanism to ensure we don’t eat anything that may harm the fetus.
When all else fails, just try to get in whatever you can between the waves of queasy – even if that means a midnight snack. Some of our patients turned to the following during their first trimester:
- salty and sour foods – like pickles, olives, salted nuts, plantain chips, salt & vinegar potato chips
- bland foods – like a baked potato, Cappello’s almond flour fettuccine, Simple Mills almond flour crackers, muffin and pancake mixes
- protein shakes with fruit and Vital Proteins collagen powder (try sneaking in frozen cauliflower, broccoli or spinach if you can)
- homemade fruit chews made from Vital Proteins gelatin (in the green canister)
- mild cheeses made from pasture-raised cows, if dairy is well tolerated
Rest assured, your body was designed to do this, and you can draw from your nutrient reserves for the short term.
If you have extreme food aversions and/or are concerned you aren’t getting enough nutrition, make sure you talk to your doctor or Midwife.
And if you’re having a hard time getting a prenatal vitamin down, try opening the capsule and adding it to a smoothie.
When does morning sickness end?
Now for some good news…
While first trimester nausea isn’t a walk in the park, it typically doesn’t last longer than a month or two.
As tough as it may be when you’re slumped over the toilet throwing up for the third time that morning, try and approach these early pregnancy challenges with gratitude – for your amazing body and for the life growing within you.
Remember that these challenges are actually a good sign that your body is making plenty of pregnancy hormones and helping protect your little one from outside threats. And have solidarity in knowing that you are not alone.
So, consider some of our suggestions above, stay positive, and know we believe in you…you got this, mami!
And if you want some extra reading while you’re laying in bed, be sure to read our definitive guide for pregnancy.