Severe Morning Sickness: Ways to Cope

My wife is four weeks pregnant and is already extremely ill. This is our second pregnancy and she seems to be headed for the same difficult 40 weeks. Her nausea, vomiting and dry heaves go well beyond what one normally expects with morning sickness. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.


Sue Gilbert

Sue Gilbert works as a consulting nutritionist. For many years she worked with Earth's Best Organic Baby Food, integrating nutrition and... Read more

How awful to feel so lousy when expecting a baby. If it is of any consolation, your wife is not alone. In fact over 50,000 women are admitted to hospitals each year in the U.S. with severe morning sickness. You can be sure for every woman admitted, there is another one at home, suffering through it. For some women the hospitalization is necessary because the vomiting has led to electrolyte imbalance, dehydration and excessive weight loss. When this severe it can put the baby at risk. Generally though, morning sickness is associated with successful pregnancy outcomes.

It is of no help to tell you that despite its prevalence, its cause is still a mystery. Several theories abound. However, treating the cause is not an option, but treating the symptoms is. To start, it is important to not add anxiety to the factor. At this point, do not worry about your wife's nutritional intake, with the exception of a supplement prescribed by her doctor. What will stay down, is what should be eaten. Your wife should find those foods, however few they may be, that she can tolerate, and focus on those. Find out the strategies that work for eating, while minimizing the vomiting and nausea. Some of the tips I will share with you, based on my reading, follow. See which of these may help and then keep them handy.

    • Always keep a little something in your stomach. Hunger seems to heighten the nausea, and then eating to appease the hunger exaggerates it. This means eating a small amount about every two hours.
    • Limit intake of sweet foods, which may enhance nausea.
    • Include foods that have a concentrated caloric and nutrient density in order to maximize intake in a small volume.
    • Avoid fatty or greasy foods. They take longer to digest
    • Drink beverages separate from eating foods.
    • Keep dry, complex carbohydrates around to nibble on, especially before getting up in the morning.
    • Some women find that low-sugar, carbonated beverages help. Try soda water mixed with a little juice.
    • Drink slowly, a few sips at a time.
    • Try Gatorade or bouillon -- both are easy on the stomach.
    • Drink ginger ale or ginger tea, or nibble on ginger snaps. Researchers who have studied ginger have found it to work as well, or better than, some pharmaceuticals in fighting motion sickness and morning sickness.
    • Be sure to drink in order to avoid dehydration.
    • Keep in touch with your doctor in order to avoid any complications that may arise as a result of the vomiting or lack of eating.
    • Try wearing an acupressure wrist band -- the type worn by boaters to avoid seasickness.
    • Ask your doctor about a vitamin B6 supplement. A 50-mg daily dose has been found effective in women with severe morning sickness.
    • Consider using liquid meals (such as Sustacal) if you cannot tolerate other foods. They may help to ensure adequate calories and nutrients.
    • Find which foods you can tolerate, the times at which you can best eat, and then go with that. Do not worry for right now that you are living on plain rice or Pop Tarts.


You can help by offering support and sympathy. Take over the jobs that are apt to heighten her nausea, such as cooking the meals, feeding baby number one, diaper changing, feeding the cat, grocery shopping or cleaning the bathroom. Help her to avoid fatigue, as that can worsen symptoms. Encourage her to get as much rest as possible. That might mean taking a nap when she gets home from work, or getting some extra sleep in the morning. I sure hope that this pregnancy is different from the first and that she finds some relief after the first trimester is over.

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