Morning sickness: When it starts, why it happens, and how to deal with it

You’re pregnant. Such joy! Except you’re so nauseous you can barely move. That’s less joyful. Parenting editor Sally J Hall finds the answers to your frequently asked questions about this common pregnancy condition.

4 min read
A woman in discomfort lies on her side in bed while holding a pillow

Morning sickness: When it starts, why it happens, and how to deal with it

You’re pregnant. Such joy! Except you’re so nauseous you can barely move. That’s less joyful. Parenting editor Sally J Hall finds the answers to your frequently asked questions about this common pregnancy condition.

4 min read

Morning sickness is a common part of pregnancy that many people experience. But it’s always sensible to be prepared and know how to manage this condition. In this guide, we will cover your morning sickness-related questions and concerns:

What is morning sickness?

If you’re feeling nauseous and vomiting during pregnancy, you’re probably experiencing the not-so-fun part of being pregnant—morning sickness! Some women develop nausea during part or all of their pregnancy, and sadly it’s not just relegated to the morning either. It’s called morning sickness because it’s more likely to happen in the morning. However, some women find they have nausea for large parts of the day and night. This continuous pattern can disrupt daily routines and leave you feeling tired.  

What are the symptoms of morning sickness?

The signs and symptoms of pregnancy sickness differ from one woman to another, but you might experience:

  • Vomiting! That's a pretty obvious one, though you can have other symptoms without physically vomiting.
  • A feeling of nausea or queasiness like sea sickness – this can be so strong as to make you throw up.
  • A sensitivity to some smells and tastes.
  • Feeling sick yet feeling hungry at the same time.
  • Feeling sick after eating.
  • Feeling nauseous in the morning, although periods of nausea can happen at any time in the day.

When does it start?

Like many pregnancy conditions, morning sickness affects different women in different ways. Some may find that morning sickness is the first sign and symptom of pregnancy. You might start to experience sickness around two weeks after you have missed your period.

Others may not experience it until they are later into the first trimester. Some lucky women never have morning sickness at all. For some others, they may find that they have more severe and long-lasting symptoms. Usually, the worst of the symptoms will be between weeks 10 and 16. Not everyone experiences sickness during pregnancy, so while it’s totally common, don’t worry if you never get it. We are not entirely sure why some women get morning sickness and others don’t. 

When does it end?

For most women, the symptoms of morning sickness ease by the time they reach weeks 16 to 20, around the time you should feel your first kick. So, as you enter your second trimester of pregnancy you should start to feel a whole lot better.

In fact, the second trimester is often better. Your uterus moves upwards in the abdomen, meaning it’s not constantly pressing on your bladder. You'll likely have more energy, as well as – hopefully – feeling less nauseous.

Why does morning sickness happen?

The cause of morning sickness is primarily due to several strong hormones flooding your body at the same time. However there are some additional reasons to consider:

  • Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), the pregnancy hormone, is strongest when the sickness is at its worst; it is even higher if you are expecting twins or more.

  • Your oestrogen and progesterone levels rise, which cause the digestive muscles to become less efficient.

  • Your increased sense of smell and taste, particularly to some foods, may cause nausea; this may also give you a strange taste in your mouth, making it worse.

  • You may produce excess saliva, which makes you feel sick.

  • Stress and tiredness can make morning sickness worse.

  • Genetics may play a part, so if your mum had bad morning sickness, you might too.

  • Low blood sugar levels can increase nausea.

  • High levels of the hormone GDF15 have recently been found to increase your likelihood of developing morning sickness.

Is morning sickness dangerous?

For most women, morning sickness is not dangerous and is not a cause for concern. You may be eating a little less than usual – and perhaps eating bland foods – but this should not affect your baby. Even weight loss in the first trimester is not in itself a worrying sign, unless you have been advised to gain weight during pregnancy by your medical team. . However, being sick a lot can lead to dehydration, so try to drink plenty of water. If your urine is very dark, speak to your midwife or GP as this is a sign you are low in fluids.

When to get help

Some women experience a condition called hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), a more serious condition. Speak to your midwife if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Very dark urine.

  • You have not passed urine in the last eight hours.

  • You are vomiting blood.

  • You have not been able to keep food down for over 24 hours.

  • You have pains in your tummy.

  • You have a temperature or fever.

  • You feel dizzy when you stand up.

How to deal with morning sickness?

You are unlikely to need medical intervention to feel better. Instead, try some of these self-help remedies for morning sickness.

  • Get plenty of rest. Growing a human is tiring enough, sickness will make you even more tired!

  • Before you get up in the morning, try to nibble a ginger biscuit or a piece of dry toast.

  • Eat small, regular meals high in carbohydrates (bread, potatoes, rice, pasta) to regulate your blood sugar and avoid foods that make you feel worse. Trigger foods are unique to each pregnancy, but these often include spicy food and citrus drinks.

  • Make sure you continue to stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water is a good choice. You can also try ginger ale or ginger tea, as ginger can help control nausea.

  • You can also buy acupressure wrist bands designed for sea sickness. These bands press on points in your wrist that can help you feel less sick.

  • Try to take your mind off the sensation by learning how to bond with your unborn baby while it’s in the womb. Sickness is temporary, but your connection is lifelong!

If morning sickness is severely affecting you, such as in hyperemesis gravidarum cases, your medical team may prescribe anti-sickness medications to manage some of the symptoms. Speak to your midwife or a medical professional for medicated treatment options. 

You can find out more about morning sickness on the NHS website. Read more about what else to expect during the first trimester of pregnancy.

This content should not substitute medical advice from your personal healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for recommendations/diagnosis or treatment.
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