Pregnancy is a wondrous time of celebration and joy. We revel in our pregnant glow and watch as our bellies gently stretch and swell. For many of us, this is a time of unparalleled happiness and giddy expectations. And then it rears its ugly head—the dreaded morning sickness! As some of us lucky gals can attest, that’s a total misnomer, as it may last all day, not to mention well into the second trimester. We can take some comfort in knowing that studies have shown the incidence of morning sickness correlates with lower rates of miscarriage, but this can feel pretty empty when you’re hugging a toilet bowl throughout the day.
There are a handful of anti-nausea drugs that are considered safe for pregnancy. However, you can’t run drug trials on pregnant women, as it’s unethical, so no one has actually tested them in the most approved scientific fashion (double-blind, randomized control studies). Yet doctors can still give these drugs to pregnant women based on expert opinion, which means they don’t think that anything bad will happen. Most of these drugs have proven to be fairly innocuous, with the notorious exception of Thalidomide, which caused babies to be born with flipper-like extremities.
As an informed consumer, you may want to consider alternative approaches to treating morning sickness. Acupuncture has been used safely and effectively by pregnant women for thousands of years, long before anything resembling Western medical science existed. It is all natural, with no drugs or potentially harmful side effects to threaten your health or that of your baby. Acupuncture involves the insertion of very fine, sterile, single-use needles into specific points on the body to adjust the flow of qi (life-force energy). With hundreds of points all over the body, acupuncture assists the body in correcting the flow of qi. It can strengthen deficiency, remove excess, or smooth the flow of qi as necessary. Best of all, it can make your nausea and vomiting a thing of the past. You can try it yourself at home by using acupressure, which is the application of pressure to the same points an acupuncturist would needle. Most local pharmacies, as well as websites like amazon.com, carry inexpensive acupressure wrist bands that provide constant, gentle stimulation to a point on the inner wrist, about 3 inches up the arm, well-known to alleviate nausea. A full acupuncture treatment is more effective and long-lasting, especially in more severe cases.
Other helpful hints: eat bland foods. This includes all things white: white bread, white rice, mild white cheese, crackers, yogurt, pasta. Yes, whole grains are healthier, but if you can’t get them down, their nutrition won’t help you. Grilled cheese sandwiches and kefir were the holy grail of my first trimester, when the thought of eating my usual healthy, vegetable-filled diet inspired dry heaves. Try splitting things up into small snack-sized portions. Sometimes it’s easier to deal with a smaller serving of food which you can actually imagine getting and keeping down. Morning sickness is usually worst upon waking because you have just spent an extended period of time without calories, so you may want to keep some non-spoilable snacks like crackers by the bedside. If even the thought of food turns your stomach, have someone else pack your snacks or prepare food for you. Don’t let your blood sugar get too low, even if you don’t look forward to food; it will only make you feel worse.
Certain smells may also trigger your morning sickness. You can safely use essential oils to distract your sense of smell. A drop or two on your wrist or a tissue or just a whiff from the bottle is usually enough. Try citrusy scents like lemon, grapefruit or orange, or minty smells like peppermint or spearmint. I’ve even known a woman who kept an actual lemon in her pocket. Herbal medicine is another great approach. Ginger can be a very effective herb to prevent and treat morning sickness. You can drink it in tea*, eat ginger candies, or take it in capsules (if you can still swallow pills, that is—if you find yourself gagging on your toothbrush, you’re not alone!). Ginger ale is another nice way to get your ginger, especially when it’s made from actual ginger like Reed’s. [Be aware that carbonated caffeinated drinks leach calcium from your bones, so use them sparingly. Most ginger ale is caffeine free.] There are also a variety of other herbs, including Chinese herbs, which can address nausea and vomiting. It’s best to consult a skilled herbalist if you are going to venture further into the herbal world to treat yourself, as some herbs are not suitable for pregnancy.
Acupuncture and East Asian medicine can treat a wide variety of other conditions during the childbearing year, including mood swings, constipation, breech presentation, colds, headaches, prodromal (slow) labor and insufficient breast milk, not to mention the aches and pains of parenting, both physical and emotional. Contact Artemesia if you have any questions.
*To make ginger tea: raw ginger is best. It’s cooler in nature than dried ginger. You can find it at most grocery stores. Take a piece of ginger, about the size of your thumb, and slice it into about 3 pieces. No need to peel it. Boil the ginger in about 2 cups of water for 15 minutes. Remove ginger and drink. You may add honey or other natural sweetener if you desire (bonus: honey will help to gently moisten your Intestines, which have slowed their movement down to help you absorb more nutrients in order to build a healthy baby and placenta). The tea will keep in the fridge for about a week. It’s ok to drink leftover tea hot or cold. Though generally East Asian Medicine prefers warm things, pregnancy generates a lot of heat and you may be put off by hot drinks.