Pregnancy

When does morning sickness start and end?

June 30, 2021
Woman lying down covering her face with her hands - morning sickness start & end - Naytal

Short on time? Then the key things to know are:

  • Typically, morning sickness starts between 4 and 7 weeks after your last period, peaks around weeks 9 to 12 and resolves by week 20

  • Tiredness can worsen feelings of nausea so make sure you get enough sleep both during the night and by resting in the day

  • To help ease symptoms of morning sickness, try eating a plain breadstick or biscuit as soon as you wake up

  • You should also avoid any triggers that cause surges of nausea and vomiting such as spicy food, strong smells or overheating

  • In the majority of pregnancies morning sickness does not require medical intervention but there are some important symptoms to be aware of that need further assessment by a healthcare professional including a fever, stomach pain or changes in urine

 

Morning sickness, evening sickness, all day sickness!

The truth is that morning sickness is a somewhat misleading term for symptoms that can strike at any time of the day or night and includes anything from a mild feeling of nausea with no actual sickness to persistent vomiting.

Fortunately, these symptoms rarely last throughout pregnancy and are not associated with any worrying outcomes for the pregnancy or baby.

In this blog we share what ‘morning sickness’ entails, how long morning sickness lasts, how to ease symptoms and when to get help from a specialist.

What is morning sickness?

Nausea and vomiting are incredibly common in the early stages of pregnancy and unfortunately, despite the name, it can occur throughout the day or night and it is common for the symptoms to fluctuate during the course of the day.

Morning sickness affects around 90% of pregnancies and it is a unique experience for every woman, and even varies dramatically between different pregnancies for the same woman.

For some women the most they experience is mild nausea that causes minimal disruption to their daily lives. Meanwhile others struggle for weeks with persistent, potentially disabling symptoms that merit medical assessment and potentially treatment.

When does morning sickness start and end?

Typically, morning sickness starts between 4 and 7 weeks after your last period. The symptoms of nausea and vomiting tend to peak in severity around weeks 9 to 12. For most women, after 12 weeks the most severe symptoms start to improve and fully resolve by around week 20.

There are a small minority of women whose symptoms persist beyond week 20 but this is very unusual. Importantly, if nausea and vomiting starts after 11 weeks, this is less likely to be due to morning sickness and other causes should be considered.

What can I do to help my morning sickness symptoms?

There is no cure for morning sickness, and it can feel like a long, exhausting waiting game to reach the second trimester of pregnancy when the most severe symptoms settle. However, it is helpful to know that there are some simple changes you can make to your diet and daily routine that can help ease and control those surges of sickness.

First and foremost, rest. Tiredness can worsen feelings of nausea so making it a priority to ensure you are getting enough sleep overnight and an opportunity to rest during the day is important.

Next, consider having a plain biscuit or breadstick at your bedside to eat as soon as you wake as this can help ease nausea and vomiting that strikes before breakfast. ‘Little and often’ is a helpful approach; eating and drinking small amounts more frequently than normal helps to meet your body’s nutritional requirements while avoiding aggravating nausea and vomiting symptoms.

It is also helpful to reflect on whether there are any particular triggers that cause surges in your symptoms such as spicy food, strong smells or being hot, and avoid these where possible.

Finally, some women find that the favourite old wives’ tale, ginger, does indeed help ease nausea, and there is some clinical evidence to support it,[i] so it is always worth trying something like ginger biscuits or ginger tea if you haven’t already.

If you have tried the measures above but are still struggling on a daily basis with significant symptoms it is so important to talk to someone, don’t suffer in silence. A midwife or GP can explore your symptoms with you and assess your level of dehydration for example by checking your pulse, blood pressure and a urine sample. They can also discuss options such as medication to ease nausea if appropriate.

When should I seek help?

It is important to be aware that there is a severe form of morning sickness known as Hyperemesis Gravidarum in which women vomit so frequently that it causes significant dehydration and weight loss.

If this condition is left without professional monitoring and treatment it has the potential to cause harm to both mother and baby. Symptoms that may be experienced with more severe morning sickness or Hyperemesis Gravidarum include:

  • Very dark urine
  • Not passing urine for more than 8 hours
  • Inability to keep any food or drink down for more than 24 hours

Any pregnant woman with any of these symptoms should speak to a doctor as soon as possible to arrange an assessment.

Similarly, while nausea and vomiting are common in early pregnancy, there are some conditions that can mimic morning sickness but require medical assessment and treatment. For example urinary tract infections can cause nausea and vomiting. Therefore, if you have any symptoms that are not typical for morning sickness it is again important to discuss this with your doctor or midwife. Symptoms that require particular attention include:

  • Fever
  • Stomach pain

In summary

Morning sickness is exceptionally common in pregnancy and can be considered a reassuring sign that the necessary hormonal changes seen in a healthy pregnancy are progressing nicely. While this is reassuring to know, it does not necessarily help when you are in the throes of sickness, feeling drained and desperate for relief!

It can be incredibly helpful to talk to someone about your experience of morning sickness, whether it is a friend who can offer an understanding ear, your partner who can help you get a bit more rest, or a professional such as a midwife or GP who can assess the severity of your symptoms and offer advice and/or treatment.

At a time when you are likely to be emotionally vulnerable with fluctuating hormones, morning sickness can be tough to manage without support. There are plenty of people ready and willing to help, all you need to do is ask.

Want to talk to an expert about your morning sickness symptoms? Book a consultation with our private midwives who can provide specialist advice and help with any concerns.

References:

[i] Viljoen, E., Visser, J., Koen, N. et al. A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect and safety of ginger in the treatment of pregnancy-associated nausea and vomiting. Nutr J 13, 20 (2014)

Dr Alice Wood, Naytal Medical Advisor

Dr Alice is an experienced GP with a special interest in Women's health and emerging health technologies.

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