Right about the time you get to share the good news, it strikes: the first trimester flu. How could a baby so small cause such a big problem? If you could think clearly as you set up camp in the loo, you'd wonder how long this puking would last. Or ponder why it's called morning sickness when it bugs you morning, noon and night.
At least you're not alone. As many as 80 percent of pregnancies include nausea and vomiting. Hormones and their stomach-upsetting effects are to blame, especially human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG). Rising estrogen and progesterone levels heighten the sense of smell and wreak havoc with digestive functions. Still more hormones that increase the efficiency of digestion also promote low blood sugar, dizziness and after-meal sleepiness. The good news is the queasiness often (but not always) begins to subside after the three-month mark.
In the interim, we've got a few tricks up our sleeves. Although nothing's guaranteed to tame that first terrible trimester, you could manage to wrangle an extra massage or skip supper duties. That's not so bad, right? Check out our top 10, beginning with breakfast (of sorts) in bed.
Did your pre-pregnancy life include a mad morning dash? Accustomed to leaping from under the covers with an alarm-bell blaring like a drill sergeant? Pregnancy has probably put an abrupt end to this practice because of uncomfortable consequences, like nausea and dizziness.
If you'd like to wake to the sounds of a new day rather than audible retching, allow yourself extra time to rise. Start by setting your alarm clock one hour earlier and noshing on a few crackers or dry cereal stashed on your bedside table as you slowly greet the day. These carbohydrate-rich foods help settle the stomach because they're bland in flavor, soak up acids that have accumulated overnight and offer a good foundation for an actual breakfast. Plus, sitting up in stages allows your body to adjust without making the room spin -- and triggering a barf attack.
Fresh ginger root has long been known as a digestive aid. The 16th century German botanist Adam Lonicerus famously wrote, "Ginger does good for a bad stomach." Maybe what he should have penned was, "Ginger does good for a pregnant stomach."
Modern studies vary as to ginger's overall effectiveness in eliminating nausea, but it still makes our list because we're a hopeful lot. For starters, it won't hurt your baby, so it's certainly worth a try. After all, if ginger does settle your stomach you'll know you've hit upon a winner. Your best bet is fresh ginger root, which you can grate and use in fruit smoothies or as a salad topper. You can also steep the root in hot water to make tea. Concentrated ginger powders are available in pill form, too. Just don't rely on the kind of ginger you get out of a soda can. Turns out, your typical ginger ale contains artificial ginger flavors and no actual ginger.
Feeling a bit like a bloodhound? If your snoot can detect offensive aftershave at 100 paces, you can blame your new skill squarely on pregnancy hormones. To be more specific, an estrogen surge has heightened your sense of smell. And your super-smeller is making your morning sickness worse by triggering nausea the moment you smell something offensive, which happens to be most of the time.
The key is to avoid icky odors when you can. If the scent of frying meat sets you off, delegate your cooking duties or go veggie for a few months. If laying your head on a freshly laundered pillowcase triggers a run to the bathroom (thanks to the lingering scent of detergent), switch brands to one that is free of perfumes. The same goes for scented cleaning products or toiletries. You can also combat what your nose knows by opening the windows in your home as temperatures allow. The fresh air will help. So will scenting it with natural odors that make you feel less nauseous, such as mint, lemon or ginger.
You may be able to short circuit your nausea by sucking on lemon drops, peppermints or even lollipops made especially for pregnant women. These lollipops, such as Preggie Pops, are marketed as a drug-free, all-natural way to keep the barf bag at bay.
Part of the reason lemon drops and flavored lollipops are so effective is because their key ingredients (including lemon, ginger or mint) have long been known for their stomach-soothing effects. Plus, the sugary suckers are slow to dissolve and so don't make an immediate impact on the belly. And because most have a strong smell, thanks to their citrus-based taste, they can overpower less pleasant smells that would otherwise cause upset. If you're one of the preggos plagued by excess saliva, sucking on a lemon drop can make the problem less noticeable -- and tame your gag reflex.
If heartburn has become a problem for you, pay attention to body positioning after meals. Stay in an upright, seated position until your meal has had time to digest. This position will help keep stomach acids from migrating into your lower esophagus and causing heartburn. Even if heartburn's never been a problem before, it may bug you during this baby-growing phase because pregnancy hormones relax the stomach walls.
Don't forget to consider how you're positioned when you're lying down, too. Rather than just flopping onto the couch (who could blame you?), lie slightly elevated on your left side. By lying on your left side, you'll keep your uterus from squishing your liver (which is on the right), thus improving circulation to your heart and allowing better blood flow to your baby, uterus and kidneys. Talk about a win/win situation.
Eat, even if you don't feel hungry. We're not talking Vegas buffet here, just a series of small, protein-rich meals to keep your stomach from becoming empty. If you give hunger pangs a chance to strike, low blood sugar and stomach acids can become a pukey combination.
You should also eat during the middle of the night when you get up to go the bathroom. Line your stomach with soothing and easily digestible foods like yogurt fortified with fruit. This low-calorie, high-protein snack will help keep vomiting from becoming part of your morning routine. Complex carbohydrates are also good to munch throughout the day. These starchy foods -- like whole grain pastas and crackers -- act as nutritional time-release capsules to keep your energy and appetite stable.
The nutritional tips that serve you well at home can go on the road, too. Never be without a snack, whether you are in the middle of a commute, attending an office meeting or hosting a play date. If you're invited to a friend's for dinner, volunteer to bring fare you know you can eat.
You may be accustomed to minding your Ps and Qs, but your Bs are more important during pregnancy. Especially the first trimester when vitamins B6 and B12 can help ease morning sickness. Several studies have linked a 30 mg daily dose of B6 to a reduction in nausea. Others recommend dosages ranging from 10 to 25 mg three times a day. The jury's still out on exactly how much and why B6 works, but as long as you don't ingest more than 100 mg a day (which could cause nerve damage) it can't hurt to give it a try.
Vitamin B12 won't harm you, either, but it could help you keep food down. You'll need anywhere from 4 to 25 micrograms twice a day if you want the vitamin to curb vomiting. If you can't swallow a pill, look for supplements in liquid form. Most compounding pharmacies can whip some up for you.
Of course, you could try to get more B vitamins in your diet by eating red meat, eggs, clams, liver and octopus. For now, though, we think we'll stick to the Bs in pill form.
Put the pressure on your pregnancy, literally. There's an area between the wrist and elbow on the underside of the arm that you should get familiar with. About 2 inches (5 centimeters) or three fingers above the crease of the inner wrist, in the middle of the wrist tendons is a pressure point that can be stimulated to relieve nausea. Simply rub it with your thumb for about five minutes, then switch to the other arm. You can repeat this as often as necessary, until your nausea seems to settle down.
You can also buy a band to do the work for you. For years, seafaring folk have eased motion sickness with elastic wristbands outfitted with a hard plastic button designed to activate this pressure point. Known under the brand names Sea-Bands or BioBands, these over-the-counter remedies can work on morning sickness -- sometimes in as little as five minutes after being worn over the pressure point.
You could tempt fate (or at least vomiting) by eating spicy foods during the first trimester. But for most women, bland is the way to go. Spicy foods, and their tasty cousins "fried" and "fatty," are more difficult to digest and may just bounce right back up.
However, you could try eating like a "brat." The Bananas-Rice-Applesauce-Toast diet has long been recommended to those with upset tummies. For a twist, you could get "braty," by adding yogurt to the mix. Bland, yet filling, these foods can bridge the gap between the continual vomiting of the first trimester and the "anything goes" diet of the second trimester.
If you are able to eat, but only foods you usually favor as splurges -- like potato chips or ice cream -- don't worry that your food pyramid is out of whack. The real key is to keep something down, whatever it is. So even if you're only eating olives, it's OK for now.
Pregnant women once avoided massage during the first trimester for fear of miscarriage. However, certified prenatal massage practitioners now use the art to help women ease the effects of morning sickness -- as long as the women aren't actively nauseous during the massage. The first step is identifying your "wellness window," whether it's a particular day of the week or even just as few hours when you feel more rested and less sick. Many practitioners who specialize in working with pregnant women understand the flexibility that's required to keep an appointment during the first trimester.
Pregnancy massage can decrease the severity of morning sickness because the practitioner concentrates on specific areas known to reduce nausea. These include the center of the breastbone and the protruding bone on the inside of the ankle. When combined with overall tissue stimulation, massage also reduces anxiety and increases circulation -- two things that can boost feelings of physical wellness. Just remember to drink extra water to help flush any toxins your tissues may release after massage. You'll be less stressed and better equipped to face the duration of your pregnancy, which ends with the best gift of all: your baby.
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