By Jesse Marx
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When my friend Julie found out she was pregnant with her first child, she planned to eat only well-balanced meals and to snack on plenty of fruits and veggies. Thanks to a three-month bout of morning sickness, it wasn't that easy.
"As it turned out, I could eat macaroni and cheese and applesauce and that was about it for my first trimester," says Julie, now the mother of a healthy seven-year-old daughter.
Morning sickness puts fifty thousand women in the hospital each year and affects more than half of all pregnant women, according to Miriam Erick, M.S., a registered dietitian in Boston. Erick is a nationally recognized expert on morning sickness and co-author (with Liz Weiss, M.S., also a registered dietician) of the video Morning Sickness All Day & All Night: A 24-Hour Survival Guide for Pregnant Women and Their Families (Lemon-Aid Films, Inc.).
As the video title implies, morning sickness doesn't just happen in the morning. And it can be serious. If morning sickness becomes severe, the resulting nausea can cause a woman to vomit as often as fifteen times a day, disrupting her metabolism, depleting her of fluids, and making her anemic. Some women have even broken ribs or ruptured blood vessels from dry-heaving. Despite the prevalence of morning sickness, many women are simply told to eat dry crackers before arising (not a proven remedy according to Erick). But there are some ways you can reduce the symptoms:
* First, separate the myths from the facts. Years ago, Erick says, women were bound in tight bandages, given honey intravenously, and even injected with their husband's blood in attempts to combat morning sickness. Today we know considerably more about dealing with this problem, but a few myths still linger. For instance, many pregnant women are told that morning sickness is all in their head. Actually, many experts believe it's caused by an increase in pregnancy hormones, especially estrogen. So morning sickness can actually be a good sign that these pregnancy hormones are protecting the developing fetus, says Erick. (If you don't experience morning sickness, however, there's no need to worry, she notes.)
* Think snacks, not meals. An empty stomach can cause feelings of nausea. So eat small amounts of food, but eat frequently. "Small feedings of a little soup with bread every fifteen minutes will usually work," says Mark Decker, M.D., an obstetrician in Wisconsin.
* Avoid unpleasant odors. "I call it the 'radar nose of pregnancy,'" Erick laughs, describing the enhanced sense of smell many pregnant women notice. Almost any normal smell can suddenly trigger nausea in a woman who's suffering from morning sickness. Your husband's morning breath, a certain brand of cologne, the cat's food, or even a formerly favorite smell such as fresh-brewed coffee, can cause nausea. Cigarette and cigar smoke have put more than one mom-to-be over the edge, which might be nature's way of keeping a pregnant woman away from potentially harmful substances. One of Erick's pregnant patients could even smell the odor on the ice cubes in a glass of ice water. "I never knew ice cubes had a smell," the patient said. On the good side, the fresh, natural smell of lemon has been found to help many women overcome morning-sickness symptoms, Erick reports. Simply cutting a lemon in half and breathing in the scent can often immediately relieve nausea, her patients have found.
* Don't feel like drinking anything? Try liquid-filled foods. "We all need two quarts of fluid every day," says Erick. But if the idea of drinking that much liquid is more than you can stand, look for foods that contain water. Apples, pears, flavored gelatin, celery sticks, and watermelon may do the trick, she suggests. Also (if your doctor hasn't advised you to limit your salt intake), you might try eating salty foods like pretzels and pickles, which can make you thirsty and encourage you to drink more liquids.
* Eat what you like. While you certainly want to eat a healthy diet when you're pregnant, "this is the time to think about what sounds good to you," says Erick. "Eat what you want at the moment, even if it's lemonade or spicy chicken," she advises. This unconventional approach struck Erick when she asked her patients to describe what appealed to them when they were feeling nauseous. She found the responses varied widely, including spicy, crunchy, bitter, hot, and fruity foods.
* Don't worry about cravings. During this time it's not uncommon to crave foods you never even liked before you were pregnant. One of Erick's patients ate five apples a day. Another woman only only watermelon. If you have food cravings, Erick says, don't worry, they won't last forever! "The most important thing is to take in fluids and calories," she says.
* Try ginger. Some women find it helpful to chew on a piece of ginger to ease nausea, according to James Marti and Heather Burton, authors of Holistic Pregnancy and Childbirth (Wiley, 1999; $16.95). Marti, executive director of the Holistic Medical Research Foundation, and Burton, a certified childbirth instructor, note that straight gingerroot can taste a bit strong. If it doesn't appeal to you, try sipping ginger tea or taking ginger supplements. You may also want to talk with your doctor about taking vitamin B6 supplements to relieve nausea, the authors suggest. (Of course, you'll want to check with your doctor before taking any medications or supplements while pregnant.)