Why do I feel so bleh? Understanding what causes pregnancy nausea


Nausea and vomiting is the most common complaint in pregnancy. We chatted to Dr Natalie Odell, who qualified with a Fellowship in Obstetrics and Gynaecology from the College of Medicine South Africa and a MMed from WITS, to better understand its causes.

If you are, or have been, pregnant and you barely experienced morning sickness – count yourself fortunate, because you're in the minority. Nausea and vomiting affects up to 80% of pregnant women to various degrees. Most women experience it from the first trimester, starting from about 4 weeks, and usually improving after 12 weeks. Here’s a guide to what causes it.

What causes nausea and vomiting in pregnancy?

According to a specialist obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Natalie Odell, nausea and vomiting in pregnancy is mostly caused by a combination genetic, endocrine and psychological factors:

  1. Like mother, like daughter

Did you know you can be genetically predisposed to pregnancy-related symptoms? Pregnant women whose mothers suffered from nausea and vomiting in pregnancy were found to be thrice as likely to suffer from it themselves.

  1. Helter-skelter hormones

The changes in a woman's hormones throughout her pregnancy are behind many of the unpleasant side effects, like mood swings, constipation and heartburn. When it comes to nausea and vomiting, a couple of hormones, such as progesterone and leptin, play a role.

However, the most significant contributor is a hormone called Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG), which is released from the placenta from about 4 weeks after conception. It peaks at 9 weeks, when morning sickness often also peaks.

HCG levels are higher in multiple pregnancies, so these moms often experience worse symptoms. (If you're having twins or more - draw encouragement from Tebo and Oratile's story here.)

  1. Soothe out the stressors

Psychological factors can definitely aggravate nausea and vomiting. Women who have strong stressors in either their home or work environment (for example, poor communication or tension with their partner or their boss) will often complain of more severe symptoms throughout their pregnancy. Talk about issues and take active steps to address any stressors you can. Try to manage or lessen them as far as possible, for the sake of your own and your baby's health.

So what can be done to help? For starters, remember that nausea and vomiting is a normal and to be expected during pregnancy. It will not harm your baby. However, to make your own life more manageable and pleasant, there are a couple of non-pharmacological and pharmacological options you can try.

Just remember, once you have nausea and vomiting in pregnancy, you're at a higher risk of developing the same symptoms in subsequent pregnancies. But by starting effective dietary and behavioural changes early in your next pregnancy, you can lessen the symptoms.

Read "Help, I can't keep food down! How to treat pregnancy nausea” for Dr Odell's tips on how to manage nausea and vomiting, and what to do if your symptoms are severe.

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With Discovery Health Medical Scheme, you have access to comprehensive maternity and post-birth benefits supported by access to 24/7 support, advice and guidance through the My Pregnancy and My Baby programmes on the Discovery app and website.

The healthcare services are covered from the Maternity Benefit at the Discovery Health Rate. This cover does not affect your day-to-day benefits and depends on the plan you choose.

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