Should You Worry About Morning Sickness?

Find out why you feel so sick and some ways to calm your stomach.

Updated on May 26, 2023

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Morning sickness, or nausea and vomiting that occurs due to pregnancy, is one of the most common symptoms that pregnant people may experience, especially in the first trimester. In fact, nausea and vomiting affects nearly 3 in 4 pregnancies. (And it can happen any time of day, not just in the morning.)

Despite how common it is, the cause is still not completely understood. Hormonal changes are at least partially responsible. The hormones most likely at play are high levels of estrogen and the pregnancy hormone human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), says Lisa Beard, MD, an OBGYN with the Woman’s Hospital of Texas in Houston.

Morning sickness symptoms usually subside by the second or third trimester. Until then, you may be seeking ways to handle it. Talk with your healthcare provider (HCP) if you experience any symptoms of morning sickness during your pregnancy. Let your HCP know, too, if symptoms worsen or interfere with daily activities or if you are losing weight or having trouble gaining the expected pregnancy weight.

Read on to learn more about morning sickness, what it says about the health of you and your baby, and how to cope.

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Is it morning sickness or is there another cause?

First of all, it’s important to note that although morning sickness is very common, nausea and vomiting during pregnancy is sometimes caused by a separate medical issue. Potential causes include:

  • Thyroid disease
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Foodborne illnesses

The timing of ordinary morning sickness can be a clue to finding the right diagnosis. Normally, morning sickness symptoms arise sometime around the sixth week of pregnancy. Most of the time, symptoms improve during the middle three months of pregnancy (weeks 13 to 27). Every pregnancy is different, however, and symptoms might last just a few days or for the entire length of the pregnancy.

Talk to an HCP to help ensure the right diagnosis.

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There is a small chance you’ll have severe morning sickness

You may have heard of hyperemesis gravidarum, or severe morning sickness. Just about 3 percent of pregnant people will experience hyperemesis gravidarum. Signs and symptoms include:

  • You vomit more than three to four times a day.
  • You lose more than 5 percent of your pre-pregnancy body weight. (Some experts advise seeking medical attention if you lose more than 5 pounds.)
  • You feel dizzy and light-headed.
  • You get dehydrated.

Factors that may boost your risk for hyperemesis gravidarum include:

  • Morning sickness during a previous pregnancy
  • More than one fetus
  • A parent or sibling with a history of morning sickness
  • Female fetus
  • Prior history of motion sickness or migraines

“Hyperemesis gravidarum can impact daily function, impair one's ability to work, cause anxiety and, if left untreated, cause rare complications like fetal growth restriction, malnutrition, and esophageal tears, among other things,” Dr. Beard says. 

If an HCP suspects hyperemesis, you may need lab testing to screen for causes of vomiting unrelated to pregnancy or to assess for complications of severe vomiting. In some cases, an ultrasound is suggested to check for multiples.

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When to contact an HCP

Usually, morning sickness shouldn’t affect your health or your baby’s. But if you have trouble eating or drinking fluids, that can affect your weight and your baby’s birth weight. In addition, elevated hormone levels associated with morning sickness or hyperemesis gravidarum can cause thyroid, liver, and fluid balance issues, and very rarely, injury to the esophagus.

Get medical attention quickly if:  

  • You’re unable to keep fluids down.
  • You feel dizzy or lightheaded.
  • There is blood or a brown color in your vomit.
  • You have abdominal pain.
  • You’ve lost over five pounds.
  • You’re making little or no urine.
  • Your heart rate is fast.
  • You feel very tired or confused.
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There are effective treatments

Nausea and vomiting during pregnancy can be treated in a number of ways. Avoiding triggers that may make you feel bad—such as fatty or spicy foods, smells, bright lights, and car rides—can reduce symptoms. Get plenty of fresh air and stay hydrated. It’s recommended that pregnant people drink 8 to 12 cups of water per day, although your HCP may have another suggestion.

Eating small, frequent meals and sticking to bland foods like broth, gelatin, rice, crackers, potatoes, or toast might help prevent nausea, too. You can also try bananas, rice, applesauce, or toast (the “BRAT” diet). Ginger, including ginger tea or ginger supplements, candies, or sodas (watch the sugar!) may help. Don’t use cannabis, which is not proven to be safe for the baby and may also harm the health of the pregnant person.

Over-the-counter (OTC) treatments might also help. Before trying any OTC treatments, though, check with an OBGYN or another HCP.

Some evidence suggests that wearing pressure-point wrist bands throughout the day may help ease nausea in some situations.

If these options are not effective, prescription antiemetic medications may reduce vomiting. Hyperemesis gravidarum may require a hospital stay so HCPs can evaluate liver function; monitor weight loss or malnutrition; give IV fluids, medications, and/or nutrition; and/or treat any imbalances in blood chemistry (electrolytes).

Slideshow sources open slideshow sources

Judith A Smith, Karin A Fox, MD, Shannon M Clark. Nausea and vomiting of pregnancy. UpToDate. April 2021.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Morning Sickness: Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy. May 2020.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Marijuana and Pregnancy. Accessed March 11, 2022.
ABC Australia. Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, used hypnobirthing techniques to treat severe morning sickness. February 15, 2020.
Cleveland Clinic. Hyperemesis Gravidarum (Severe Nausea & Vomiting During Pregnancy). December 2, 2020.
JM Hershman. Human chorionic gonadotropin and the thyroid: hyperemesis gravidarum and trophoblastic tumors. Thyroid. July 9, 1999.
WM Outlaw, JA Ibdah, KL Koch. Hyperemesis Gravidarum and Maternal Liver Disease. Madame Curie Bioscience Database. Landes Bioscience. 2000-2013.
Dotun A Ogunyemi. Hyperemesis Gravidarum. Medscape. January 4, 2017.
Ee C, Levett K, Smith C, et al. Complementary medicines and therapies in clinical guidelines on pregnancy care: A systematic review [published online ahead of print, 2021 Aug 18]. Women Birth. 2021;S1871-5192(21)00141-4.
Jonathan Jarry. Can You Turn Nausea Off at the Wrist? McGill Office for Science and Society. August 6, 2021.
BBC News. Duchess of Cambridge used hypnobirthing to cope with sickness. February 15, 2020.
Medline Plus. Hyperemesis gravidarum. Reviewed January 1, 2021.

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