30 August 2017

What to eat when you have morning sickness

Auckland mum Candice could only stomach non-caffeine fizzy drinks like ginger ale or raspberry. Her friend, Ursula, couldn't handle anything with a flavour or aroma - only bland snacks like crackers and dry bread would do - while Yvonne, an author and parenting journalist, says even the thought of something sweet had her reaching for a bucket.

So, what can three different New Zealand mums with three vastly different experiences teach us about what to eat for morning sickness? A whole lot, it turns out - the trick is to listen between the lines. 

Listen to your body

When morning sickness strikes, at any time of day or night, you may find that it's not just the vomiting, nausea and dizziness that can leave you out of sorts. There's also the endless bits of conflicting advice, tips and experiences that everybody from your mother-in-law to the postie feels honour bound to share.

There is, however, a kernel of truth that runs through them all, and that is 'everybody is different'. What helps and doesn't help may be influenced by things like genetics or even cultural background, but when all is said and done, it's important to listen to your body. Your body will tell you what's best for you to eat for your morning sickness. 

The term morning sickness, as any mum who has been pregnant will tell you, is a misnomer. Morning sickness, or nausea experienced during pregnancy, happens at any time of the day or night and can sometimes go on for days seemingly without let-up.

Believed to be caused by an imbalance of extra hormones in your body, and the physiological changes from pregnancy, morning sickness affects women particularly in the early stages of pregnancy.

What you eat and drink will largely depend on what you feel like, what you can hold down and the health and medical needs that are particular to your situation. 

If you have other health concerns, it is important to consult your health professional because everybody is different. For example, Yvonne struggled with low blood sugar during her pregnancy, so she had her husband bring her dry crackers and tea before she got out of bed. This, she says, probably helped her rebalance her blood sugar levels.

"Talk to your doctor of midwife about your health concerns, no matter how silly you think the question may be. Your health professional will know what's best for you because we're all different," says Yvonne, adding the same applies to the advice you receive or read about. 

"We hear advice like eat bananas or eat chickpeas, but if you can't keep those foods down, you're going to end up feeling guilty as well as ill. For example, my background is Polish and my family would suggest things like marinated herring fish, pickled gherkins and sour cabbage. But this advice is most likely based on a time and culture when people struggled with Vitamin C deficiencies hence the sour food.

"What I learned from my morning sickness, was to listen to my body. To avoid what my body didn't want, and to eat what it did want," says Yvonne. The most important rule is to ensure that you get plenty of good nutrition and stay hydrated.

Get expert medical advice, and test what works for you and what doesn't. To get you started, here are some foods that are commonly referenced for morning sickness and nutrition:

Water and electrolytes

Drink lots of water and electrolytes to stay hydrated. Proper hydration is always important, but particularly if you're also throwing up.

Ginger 

While ginger ale itself might only be ginger flavoured (which means any of its benefits may be purely placebo), ginger itself has been widely favoured as a nausea remedy for centuries. Think about adding more ginger into your diet, whether that's through drinking ginger and lemon tea, eating ginger biscuits or adding ginger to your cooking, such as in stir-fries.

Crackers, dry toast and cereal

All three Kiwi mums recommended bland carbohydrate foods such as crackers, dry toast and cereal, especially before going to bed and just before getting up in the morning (as opposed to spicy, fatty, strong smelling foods which are likely to make you feel worse).

Rest, hydrate, snack

Healthy nutrition will help you cope better with morning sickness, but it's just as important to get plenty of rest - get up slowly - and eat small amounts regularly to help you improve how you feel. Don't hesitate to hold your nose to block out certain smells, like perfume and cigarette smoke, that make you feel worse.

Even if you can't eat much (your baby will take the nutrients they need from you even if you don't manage to eat much solid food), it's very important to make sure you stay hydrated. Sip on drinks throughout the day and snack regularly. You could also try Complan a drink which can be used as a quick meal replacement or in-between meals if you're concerned that you may be missing out on important nutrients.

Finally, eat smaller snacks more frequently, get lots of fresh air, sleep as much as possible and take heart from some evidence that suggests women who do struggle with nausea and vomiting during pregnancy have better pregnancy outcomes. 

If you're sick several times a day, and you can't keep any decent amount of food or drink down, it's time to see your general practitioner or lead maternity carer.

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