Nausea during pregnancy: causes and solutions
Nausea is a common complaint during pregnancy. Whether you get nausea and how severe it is depends on many factors. By understanding what’s causing your nausea, you can greatly reduce it.
The basic facts
Some pregnant women get very little nausea or none at all. Others have a lot! It’s relatively common to have nausea in the morning, and most nausea resolves by the end of the first trimester. However, to anyone who experiences nausea at all times of day, the term “morning sickness” may seem like a bad joke. Nonetheless, I’ll use the term “morning sickness” here as a synonym for “nausea” without making assumptions about time of day.
Most women with a history of nausea during pregnancy feel significantly better after the end of the first trimester. While it’s uncommon, there are women who experience nausea well into the second and third trimesters.
Many factors affect morning sickness, and of course these can interact in sometimes unpredictable ways. Mainly, keep in mind that pregnancy-associated hormonal surges, blood sugar balance, gallbladder and liver health and fat and cholesterol status are the most significant factors at stake.
Nausea and your hormones
During the early stages of pregnancy, your body has to produce loads of extra hormones. While vital for your baby’s development, this can be hard on your body if you’re not in tip-top hormonal balance. Symptoms predominate during the first 12 weeks. After that, the placenta is fully formed and steps in to help support hormonal production.
However, nausea is about more than hormones. In fact, addressing morning sickness means easing the body’s ability to adjust to the increased hormonal levels. How? Well, by supporting the other factors, including blood sugar balance, gallbladder and liver health, and fat and cholesterol status.
Think of working on these three areas as strengthening the scaffolding so as to keep your body strong and balanced, more resilient in the face of the inevitable hormonal changes that help make the miracle of pregnancy possible. As always, the less stressed you are, the more balanced and resilient you will feel, and the more physical and emotional resources will be available for a healthy pregnancy.
Nausea and blood sugar dysregulation
One of the effects of the increased hormonal production during pregnancy is an increased difficulty balancing blood sugar levels due to the many hormonal and metabolic requirements of pregnancy. Eating regular meals and snacks can help. Of course, the overnight “fast” can cause a dip in blood sugar.
To put it briefly, when your blood sugar crashes, you get nausea with carbohydrate cravings. This is why eating a small starchy snack can help settle the nausea temporarily. Unfortunately, this doesn’t address the underlying dynamics of unstable blood sugar. Thus, an important consideration in easing morning sickness involves supporting the body’s appropriate regulation of blood sugar.
You liver and your hormones
When our body produces and uses hormones, the liver is responsible for breaking down those used hormones so as to recycle the raw materials and make more. During pregnancy, the ramped-up hormonal production can strain the liver a bit, especially if it was working hard already prior to pregnancy. Targeted nutritional, environmental and lifestyle factors can help tremendously.
Gallbladder health and fat/cholesterol status
Did you know that eating good sources of cholesterol during pregnancy is crucial for the health of bile and sex hormones? We get cholesterol in certain fat-containing animal foods, which you’ll find listed below. However, in order to digest fat and put the cholesterol in our food to good use, the gallbladder needs to be in good working order. For the gallbladder to work well, it needs cholesterol!
Unfortunately, the less your body is currently able to digest fats, the more likely it is that you’ll crave carbohydrates. Here are some facts to keep in mind.
- Cholesterol is the building block for steroid hormones, which include sex hormones and hormones that help regulate blood sugar levels and help us respond appropriately to stress.
- As Michaelis notes in Beautiful Babies, the body tends to use up cholesterol stores to make extra pregnancy hormones, leaving less available for bile production and fat digestion.
- Our body uses cholesterol to make bile, which the liver produces and the gallbladder secretes so that we can digest fats and rid the body of toxic substances.
- The production of both sex hormones and of bile depends on the presence of cholesterol in the body.
- The body can make its own cholesterol from carbohydrates, but the process is inefficient. The less well you’re able to digest fats due to low fat consumption, poor bile flow, or both, the more likely you are to crave carbohydrates and experience nausea during pregnancy.
Cholesterol and your baby’s health
Cholesterol is vital for fetal development, including:
- Brain development and cognitive function
- Cell membrane development and function
- Facial development
- Kidney development
- Prevention of behavior problems
Cholesterol is so vital to brain development that fetuses produce the majority of the cholesterol found in the brain. However, cholesterol from the mother’s blood is also transferred to the developing fetus via the placenta to satisfy other developmental needs.
Sign up for the Feed Your Pregnant Body!™ Program and learn more!
I designed the Feed Your Pregnant Body!™ Program to support parents-to-be. Guiding you through clear information and easy-to-implement action steps, this program helps you feel great and grow a healthy baby! Learn about the program here, and view the outline here.
Sally Fallon and Thomas Cowan. The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby and Child Care. Washington, DC: New Trends Publishing, 2013.
Kristin Michaelis. Beautiful Babies. Las Vegas, NV: Victory Belt Publishing, 2013.
Shumi Yoshida and Yoshinao Wada, “Transfer of Maternal Cholesterol to Embryo and Fetus in Pregnant Mice.” Journal of Lipid Research, vol. 46 (2005), pp. 2168.74. http://www.jlr.org/content/46/10/2168.full.pdf.