Nutrition is extremely important during pregnancy as this is one of the most intense periods of growth that a human will ever experience. Not only is this a new phase in life, but this is also a new phase for the body as pregnancy brings about thousands of biological changes.
One of these complex changes is the rapid change in the production of the female hormones Oestrogen and Progesterone. Both these hormones support the development of a nutrient system that will support the growing fetus as well as the changing nutrient needs of the mother.
And while these nutrients are creating all these amazing adaptations to pregnancy, one niggling side-effect they CAN bring about, is nausea and vomiting.
Usually beginning around week 5 of conception, nausea and vomiting is a common symptom for a lot of women, especially through the first trimester of pregnancy, as the body is getting used to this surge in hormones. In fact, it is even thought that nausea and vomiting is a sign of a healthy pregnancy as it is an indicator that the hormones are changing/working as they should! When the nausea is not severe or extremely prolonged, it is associated with a reduced risk of miscarriage of more than 60%.
But don’t panic! Even if you aren’t experiencing any nausea, you probably have nothing at all to worry about from a safety point of view.
The good news for those of you who are feeling miserable, is that while nausea and vomiting can be uncomfortable, symptoms generally disappear around the 12th week of pregnancy and while they exist, can be managed by making certain changes in your diet.
Some of these changes can even be made before you get pregnant! Let’s have a look.
Pre-pregnancy changes to manage potential nausea and vomiting:
- Visit a nutritionist or a dietitian to determine whether you are at a healthy weight pre-pregnancy. If you are underweight, you may want to work to correct that as any possible vomiting could cause further weight loss and with this also cause a loss of nutrients important for carrying a healthy pregnancy
- Consider using a prenatal multivitamin supplement either prior to or early on in pregnancy as this may help manage nausea
During-pregnancy changes to manage nausea and vomiting:
- Changes in hormones may bring about changes to sensitivity of smells - some may become less appealing than they were! Avoid foods with strong smells as these can be triggering. Alternately, you can also eat food at room temperature instead of eating it hot - hot food has a much stronger smell! Cold foods like frozen fruit popsicles, yoghurt and smoothies may also be well-tolerated.
- Changes in hormones can also bring about changes in taste - identify foods which trigger a feeling of nausea and avoid those foods.
- Eat more when you can tolerate more food - for example, some women notice that their nausea is worse in the afternoon than at other times in the day. Plan your meals so that you are eating more food in the morning and towards the evening to ensure that you are still eating as much your body needs throughout the day.
- Eat small, frequent meals - sometimes the thought or sight of food can be off-putting and nausea-inducing; instead of eating 3-4 large meals, eat 6-8 small meals - you may just tolerate these better!
- Increase energy content of meals - you may not be able to eat too much but you can increase the calorie content of your existing meals. Simple tips like adding grated cheese to foods or drizzling some olive oil over veggies or salads or sprinkling some seeds over oatmeal are easy ways to increase the energy in your meals without a visible increase in volume or quantity. This way, even if you do experience vomiting, you are making up for some of the energy and nutrient losses in your other meals
- Maintain stable blood sugar levels - pregnancy can cause changes in blood sugar levels even if you don’t have diabetes and a dip in blood sugar can be a trigger for nausea or vomiting. A great way to stabilize blood sugars is to eat regularly spaced meals and ensure that they include protein-rich foods like dairy, lean meats, eggs, beans and pulses. Protein at breakfast is especially helpful in maintaining stable blood sugar throughout the day. Protein shakes could also potentially be a good option but again, check with your nutritionist or dietitian before adding any supplements to your diet.
- If you wake up nauseous every morning, it may be helpful to have dry snacks like crackers or cashews by your bedside. Eating a couple pieces may help improve the nausea - you will have to try and see if this works for you! Also try getting up and easing out of bed slowly as rapid movement may also worsen the feeling of nausea.
- Sour or salty food may help nausea - this explains some of the most common cravings in pregnancy! You can sip on some lemon water or fruit-infused water, eat some dried fruit or suck on some candy.
- Sniff on soaps or essential oils - while sometimes these fragrances can trigger nausea, a lot of women find these helpful, especially peppermint oil and lavender oil. Again, trial and error will help you figure what does and does not work for you
- Consider a Vitamin B6 supplement - keep your nutritionist and physician in the loop for this one! Vitamin B6 supplements can help ease symptoms of nausea. The dose would have to be determined as per your needs. You can also focus on foods that are naturally good sources of Vitamin B6 - Avocados, Pistachios, Sesame Seeds, Bananas, Walnuts, Meat, Fish and Poultry are all great options.
- Ginger - add it to your food or add it to your drinks and smoothies, ginger has been used for ages to relieve nausea and it is both a safe and effective option. Use fresh ginger as much as possible instead of supplements.
- Iron supplements - a lot of women need iron supplements during pregnancy and unfortunately these can worsen nausea. Speak with your physician or nutritionist to change the type/timing of your supplement.
Remember that if you do throw up, make sure to replace fluids and electrolytes lost. Coconut water takes care of both these and is a great option. Alternately you can also simply choose to replenish with water and electrolyte-rich foods such as bananas, potatoes, nuts, and seeds.
Although nausea and vomiting may be an unpleasant experience, remember that it is only temporary and is only helping your body perform the incredible tasking of growing a life.
- Nichols, L. (2018). Real Food for Pregnancy: The Science and Wisdom of Optimal Prenatal Nutrition. Lily Nichols.
- Brown, J. E., Isaacs, J., Krinke, B., Lechtenberg, E., & Murtaugh, M. (2013). Nutrition Through the Life Cycle (5th ed.). Cengage Learning.
Amrita Kotak is a Nutritionist from Mumbai, India. She received her MSc in Nutrition from Boston University. She is also a Certified Diabetes Educator with the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) and has worked with renowned Endocrinologist and Diabetologist Dr. Nadeem Rais for 2 years. She is particularly passionate about working with people who have Diabetes and with Pregnant women, to use food and nutrition to maximise and optimise health outcomes in both these populations
Amrita now works as a full-time Nutritionist and Diabetes Educator under the name RealLife Nutrition, teaching people all over the world how to optimise their health while continuing to eat all their favourite foods.
Her food philosophy is that all foods can and do fit a balanced diet; she believes that your food should be able to support your health whatever you are going through in life and wherever you are in the world. Through a combination of resources and recipes, she teaches her clients how to tweak their foods to fit their needs in a realistic manner, in a way that suits their real lives.
Amrita is super passionate about debunking nutrition myths and frequently dishes out no-nonsense nutrition information on various social media platforms. You can connect with her on:
Youtube: Frise and Shine