Morning sickness

Morning sickness (nausea gravidarum) is one of the earliest signs of pregnancy, affecting more than half of all pregnant women. Nausea can be mild, or can lead to severe vomiting, requiring hospitalization to treat dehydration, in the most extreme cases. Morning sickness is often paired with a hypersensitive sense of smell, food aversions, or a bad taste in the mouth. Typically, nausea is present only during the first trimester, but for some women can last the entire pregnancy. Most doctors believe morning sickness occurs because of the rise in progesterone and other hormones in the body during pregnancy.

Chinese medicine treatment of nausea and morning sickness

A Canadian study surveying pregnant women found that almost two-thirds of women used natural remedies to alleviate morning sickness. Among these, acupuncture is one of the most effective and well-researched treatments. In one study of pregnant women with hyperemesis (excessive vomiting), twice-weekly acupuncture was found to have comparable results to anti-nausea medication in reducing the intensity of nausea and vomiting. In addition, acupuncture was shown to improve the psychosocial functioning of the participants. Other treatments sometimes incorporated into our recommendations and protocols include:

  • Avoidance of food triggers: alcohol, sugar, oils, meat, etc. are common triggers for morning sickness
  • Sea bands: developed for motion sickness, these wrist bands apply constant pressure to acupuncture points used to reduce nausea
  • Eating smaller meals more frequently is often helpful
  • Ginger: four double-blind, randomized clinical trials support the ability of ginger to reduce nausea
  • Vitamin B6
  • Certain smells or aromatherapy
  • Separation of fluids from solid foods

Western treatment of nausea and morning sickness

Treatment for morning sickness focuses on symptomatic control, and does not address the underlying causes. If the nausea is severe and leads to dehydration or malnutrition, most doctors will prescribe anti-nausea medications, the most common of which are ondansetron, promethazine, or metoclopramide. Often the medication does not completely alleviate the nausea, and acupuncture can still offer additional relief. In the most extreme cases, IV fluids and hospitalization may be required.

Possible causes of morning sickness

There are many theories relating to the cause of morning sickness, including:

  • Increased circulating estrogen levels: during pregnancy, estrogen levels can increase to a hundred times the pre-pregnancy levels
  • Increased progesterone levels cause relaxation of the smooth muscles, including those in the uterus, stomach and intestines, and can lead to excessive stomach acid
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Increase in human chorionic gonadotropin
  • Increase in bowel movement
  • Increased sensitivity to odors leading to heightened nausea triggers
  • Detoxification by the body to protect the child