Despite all of our research and knowledge, the exact cause of nausea in pregnancy remains elusive. For example, why do some women have terrible nausea, and others have none? We do know a few things. The hormone progesterone is a smooth muscle (involuntary muscle) relaxant, and the gastrointestinal tract is made of this kind of muscle. So the GI tract moves more slowly – the stomach empties slower and food stays within the GI tract longer. This can also lead to constipation, since there is more time for water to be absorbed from the large intestine, leading to harder stools. In addition, the hormones of pregnancy may have a direct effect on the nausea centers of the brain. Finally, the pregnancy hormone HCG (the one that gives you a positive pregnancy test) seems to be associated with nausea, since pregnancies with higher HCG levels (twins, triplets) seem to have more nausea. However, the association isn’t perfect, and two women with the same HCG levels can have varying degrees of nausea. The nausea and vomiting may make you miserable, but take heart in knowing that pregnant women with severe nausea and vomiting have fewer miscarriages, preterm deliveries, and stillbirths.
So what can a pregnant mom pack in her purse or keep in her car or work desk to help her combat it?
One natural remedy is ginger. Studies suggest that ginger in the diet, after four days, can significantly reduce nausea. Crystallized ginger can be carried in your purse, and has a nice taste. Crystallized ginger, which is a form of natural ginger that is cooked in sugar syrup. The result is a tasty chew. It can be purchased in most natural foods stores and whole foods supermarkets. The data about the safety of ginger in pregnancy shows no risks, but it should not be overused. Most studies use 250 mg 3-4 times per day (about two ginger chews or ¼ teaspoon fresh ginger). Ginger tea also can be soothing. Most ginger ale contains no ginger, but a few natural brands do. You can also use fresh crushed ginger in a teaball and make lemon-ginger tea, or use it in a refreshing smoothie so get some extra nutrients at the same time.
In addition, carbohydrates in the diet can soothe a nauseated stomach. I recommend the “white diet” – pasta, rice, potatoes, crackers – and grazing (eating a little bit all the time). Most women find that if their stomach is empty, they feel the worst, so nibble on crackers that you carry in your purse as the day goes on.