Why Do Pregnant Women Get Morning Sickness?

Being pregnant is tough enough without rolling out of bed each morning and heading straight for the toilet – head first. 

The statistics are staggering: Somewhere between 50%-90% of pregnant women experience symptoms of morning sickness in the early months of pregnancy.  One study showed that 80% of women experience nausea in the early weeks of pregnancy, and that it resolves by the tenth week for all but 10% of those women. These symptoms can range from mild intolerance to certain odors or food, to more significant, daily nausea and vomiting. A small percentage experience more profound symptoms and some require continued treatment from a doctor.

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Much is written and discussed about home and medical remedies for morning sickness, but much less is written or discussed about the possible causes for nausea and vomiting in pregnancy.  Though the cause of morning sickness has not been proven, it has been postulated that it is an innate mechanism, presented as a “protection” for the developing fetus – an inherent aversion to substances that could be harmful to the baby.  Leading medical theories consider the adverse reaction of the hormones of pregnancy as potentially part of the cause.

The pregnancy hormones HCG and estradiol have been found to have an association with NVP.  Estrogen, in the oral contraceptive pills, has been known to have the potential for causing nausea and vomiting.  Women having experienced nausea and vomiting after estrogen exposure may be more likely to experience morning sickness.  The symptoms generally peak around the weeks eight to twelve, resolving for most women by the week 20.  This pattern of “symptom peak” also follows the pattern of pregnancy hormones, peaking around weeks ten to twelve, and declining in the subsequent weeks of pregnancy.

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These hormones of pregnancy may cause a slowing of intestinal motility, allowing for a build-up of stomach acids, decreased intestinal digestion, subsequent constipation, and nausea and vomiting. 

One of the initial measures in treating nausea and vomiting in pregnancy is a dietary change, involving taking in small, but frequent meals, which can possibly improve intestinal motility.

Speak with your healthcare provider if you’re experiencing morning sickness, and in the meantime, check out these recommended treatment options from ACOG.

Did you experience morning sickness with your pregnancy?

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Suzanne Hall, MD is a full-time ob/gyn physician in Detroit, Michigan, with a passion for using social media to share news and information in the area of women’s reproductive health.  She is creator and founder of GynoGroupie.com, a fun new blog where ob/gyn  physicians share ‘simple answers to common female health concerns.

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