Why your morning sickness may be beneficial

morning SicknessMorning sickness is a hard fact of pregnancy that most women have to stomach. Yet as HEALTH discovers, it may be doing more good than you know…


As unpleasant as it is, some researchers believe that the nausea and vomiting of “morning sickness” experienced by two-thirds of pregnant women is Mother Nature’s way of protecting mothers and babies from food-borne illness, and also shielding the baby from chemicals that can deform fetal organs at the most critical time in development.

In the June 2000 issue of The Quarterly Review of Biology, Samuel M. Flaxman and Paul W. Sherman reported that NVP (which stands for “nausea and vomiting in pregnancy,” as morning sickness is known in the medical world) actually serves a beneficial function. The finding helps explain why many pregnant women develop an aversion to meats, as well as to certain vegetables and caffeinated beverages, in early pregnancy and prefer bland-tasting foods instead.


“Morning sickness’ is a complete misnomer,” says Sherman, Professor of Neurobiology and Behavior at Cornell and co-author of the report, “Morning Sickness: A Mechanism for Protecting Mother and Embryo.” “NVP doesn’t occur just in the morning, but at any time during the  waking hours, and it’s not a sickness in the pathological sense. We should change the name to ‘wellness insurance.” Flaxman, a Cornell
Biology graduate student, says the analysis of hundreds of studies covering thousands of pregnancies suggests that morning sickness and the aversion to potentially harmful foods is the body’s way of preserving wellness of the mother at a time when her immune system is naturally suppressed (to prevent rejection of the child that is developing in her uterus) and has reduced defenses against foodborne pathogens.

How it helps

By creating food aversion, NVP also protects against toxins and from microorganisms and other fetal organ-deforming chemicals. Sherman says. “At that same time, in the first trimester of pregnancy, the cells of the tiny embryo are differentiating and starting to form structures. Those developing structures and organ systems – such as arms and legs, eyes and the central nervous system – at this critical stage of a new life could be adversely affected by the teratogenic phytochemicals in some food plants.” During pregnancy, women with morning sickness are shielding the developing unborn from the harsh chemicals by vomiting and by learning to avoid certain foods altogether until the fetus develops beyond the most susceptible stage.

Tips to help with nausea

  • Eat plain and dry cereal in the morning. It’s easy on your stomach, especially without the milk.
  • Eat something salty before a meal. It helps to prevent vomiting if you’ve had trouble keeping food down.
  • Eat more protein. Try small protein-rich snacks like nuts.
  • Eat cold foods – they give off fewer odors.
  • Eat small meals every two hours. Having an empty stomach will almost always make you feel sick.
  • Eat and drink slowly.
  • Nap during the day. Morning sickness will take a lot out of you and you’ll always feel tired.
  • Get out of bed slowly in the morning.
  • Get a good night’s sleep.
  • Cook and sleep in a well-ventilated room. This will keep strong odors from sticking around, and the fresh air will help alleviate symptoms.
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