After my second baby was born, I learned that it may be possible to prevent morning sickness using proper prenatal nutrition. Turns out that the standard recommendation to take prenatal vitamins for three months before conception is just a bare-bones insurance plan.
While I would have preferred not feeling awful for the first few months of pregnancy, I was excited to see if I could help other mamas to endure less suffering.
Over the past ten years, I've worked with hundreds of pregnant women – often from preconception through postpartum – so I've seen probably every variation of first trimester symptoms, from women who breeze through without a twinge of nausea to those who need to be hospitalized to prevent severe dehydration well beyond the first few months.
So before we look at how to prevent morning sickness, it's helpful to understand…
Why does morning sickness happen?
Everybody's got a theory about why some women experience morning sickness and others don't. Most of these theories are only half-right, but a journey through these ideas can help us understand if and how we can actually prevent morning sickness.
Theory: Intense morning sickness symptoms are a sign of a strong pregnancy
I found this ‘fact' very reassuring during my pregnancies as a sort of life vest of hope that helped me to tolerate my morning sickness symptoms. The truth here is really one directional…
Many women who have had miscarriages report that they had less morning sickness symptoms during failed pregnancies than successful ones. HOWEVER, many women don't have any morning sickness, yet have extremely healthy pregnancies.
So, if this idea helps you to muddle through nausea and fatigue, that's fine…but it's not the whole truth.
Theory: Morning sickness symptoms are an evolutionary feature to help mom protect baby
I like this concept, because it encourages moms to tune in and listen to their bodies, but during early pregnancy, many women have food aversions to perfectly healthy, even essential foods.
The next two theories can help us to understand why pregnant mamas may have an aversion to nutritious foods.
Theory: Morning sickness symptoms are caused by nutritional deficiencies in the modern diet
In her new book, The Nourishing Traditions Book of Baby & Child Care, Sally Fallon Morell states that morning sickness is virtually nonexistent in indigenous populations, which suggests that modern nutritional deficiencies may actually be responsible for the nausea and discomfort that many women experience during the first trimester.
Many pregnant women are deficient in vitamins and minerals, and studies show that increasing nutrients such as magnesium and vitamin B6 can significantly reduce the symptoms of morning sickness. (source)
This makes a lot of sense, and from my professional experience, my patients who eat a Standard American Diet or are vegan tend to suffer from more intense nausea, fatigue, and other first trimester symptoms than their well-nourished peers.
Theory: Nausea is caused by insufficient cholesterol
Morell also proposes that a lack of cholesterol can make morning sickness worse. This is particularly pertinent in our fat-fearing world where most folks avoid cholesterol out of fear of it clogging arteries and leading to an early death.
The truth is, dietary cholesterol is required for the body to make sufficient hormones to support pregnancy. It is also needed for bile production, which helps the body digest fats.
When the body uses its cholesterol supply for creating pregnancy hormones such as progesterone and estrogen, there may not be enough left over to create bile. Consequently, if the fats are not able to be broken down by bile, nausea can occur.
This explains why some women (who are lacking in specific nutrients or dietary cholesterol) may have food aversions to nourishing foods their bodies need.
While I like – and mostly agree – with Sally's theories, I've had patients who have meticulously followed the prenatal recommendations of the Weston A. Price foundation and still experienced morning sickness. Which brings us to our next theory…
Theory: Lack of morning sickness is often hereditary
Studies show that extreme morning sickness symptoms are usually hereditary. In my experience, talking with hundreds of pregnant women, I've found that women who have no morning sickness at all generally were born to mothers that also enjoyed a lack of nausea and other first trimester symptoms.
The strong likelihood that morning sickness has a hereditary component explains why an excellent prenatal diet doesn't always exclude an expectant mom from first trimester nausea and other symptoms.
That said, I have also found that preparing ahead for pregnancy with a nutrient-dense diet absolutely seems to reduce morning sickness in those women who were not blessed with the easy-peasy first trimester gene.
So, let's take a look at…
How to prevent morning sickness symptoms
If you're not yet pregnant, the key to preventing (or at least reducing the intensity of) morning sickness is to ‘pre-load' your pregnancy for at least 3-6 months with a nutrient-dense diet rich in fat, fat-soluble vitamins, and essential minerals.
The Weston A. Price Foundation recommends these nutrient dense foods during pregnancy and I agree:
- 4 cups of whole milk per day (including yogurt, kefir, or ice cream), preferably raw and from pasture-fed cows
- 4 Tbsp. of butter daily, minimum, preferably from pasture-fed cows
- 2 or more eggs per day, plus additional egg yolks, added to smoothies, salad dressings, scrambled eggs, etc. – preferably from pasture-raised chickens
- 2 Tbsp. of coconut oil daily, used in cooking or in smoothies
- Liver – once or twice a week, 3-5 ounce portions
- Seafood – 2-4 times per week, with a focus on fish roe, mollusks, shellfish, salmon, sardines, and anchovies
- Cod liver oil (non-heat treated) to supply 20,000 IU of vitamin A
- Fresh beef or lamb, always with the fat
- A cup or more of bone broth, either to drink or used in soups, stews, or sauces
- Cultured vegetables, condiments and beverages, a small amount with each meal
- Fresh fruit and veggies, preferably organic, seasonal, and local – daily
Shocked by some of these amounts or the concept of eating liver or fish eggs? You can read my full post on surprising fertility superfoods here.
If you're already pregnant and feeling awful, hearing about what you could have done to prevent morning sickness is likely to only make you feel worse. Thankfully, there's lots of things you can do to help with the icky-yuckies once they're already underway.
First of all, stop worrying about what you didn't do before conceiving. Mother nature is super smart, and – regardless of what you ate before getting pregnant or what you can stomach now – your unborn child is likely getting all the nutrients he or she needs.
For most of the first trimester, your baby is being nourished by a yolk sac that is formed from embryonic cells. This means if you can only stomach toast for the first three months of pregnancy, your baby will still be nourished via all the goodness in the yolk sac.
Your job right now is to get through the first trimester (give or take a few weeks). Once you're feeling better, then you can focus on replenishing your body and nourishing your baby with the nutrient dense diet laid out here.
Check out my three top tips on managing morning sickness in this post.
Let's hear from you! Did a nutrient-dense diet help you to prevent morning sickness?
Are you a lucky owner of the ‘no-morning sickness gene'? What are your tops tips for moms-to-be to prevent morning sickness?
So before my first pregnancy I are full fat products, but thought that vegetarianism was the best way of eating. So during my pregnancy I would have yogurt and eggs but I really tried to rely on beans and peanut butter for my protein. During that pregnancy I threw up 4-5 times a day until 14 weeks, and I got PUPPS at the end of my pregnancy (miserable!!!).
Shortly after giving birth I read the perfect health diet which basically recommends the things you have listed above and I started eating that way. I had an abundant milk supply, clear skin, great bowel movements, and my skin would not burn. I continued to eat 80% that way and I also supplemented with topical magnesium. We decided to space our kids 2 years apart and I found out I was pregnant on New Year’s Day this year. This time I didn’t throw up once!! I had some aversions and was more tired that normal, but this pregnancy has been miles easier than my first. Let’s cross our fingers that The trend continues and I don’t get PUPPS again.
I ate the standard american diet with my first. Did not have a clue about a healthy diet, was super sick the first trimester, and after I had my baby I got PUPPS. Omg so awful. Shortly after doing a bunch of research I took dandelion oil to get rid of it, and then started to eat better, I got pregnant 2 years later with my 2nd baby, had way worse morning sickness for the 1st trimester, but no pupps that time. I was drinking homemade kefir all the time. I was the only thing to keep my heartburn away. I am now pregnant with baby 3. only 5 weeks in, and Im having no nausea, I have been taking iodine, and taking more supplements along with my prenatal, and I havent felt tired. Im hoping that this is going to continue. Also my mom had 7 kids and zero nausea. & me and my sister had it bad.
Oh wow. Thank you for sharing this. Very interesting.
Hahaha, I follow a very high saturated fat diet (WAPF led), I am 14 weeks pregnant and from week 5 – 11.5 I had the worst morning sickness I have experienced. I couldn’t eat much and what i could stomach wasn’t good. My supplements were upchucked 1 hour after taking them. A few things that did help were homeopathy, i did keep B6 down and I would spray Mg+ oil under my tongue when really sick, but had daily doses as well. I could take Lugols iodine in fact craved it! What is interesting is that the duration was short lived compared to other pregnancies. But there is no way I could have 4 glasses of milk all that butter, liver, bone broth…..ahhh. But now consume it all! and can’t get enough!
Do try if you can do all those things in the first few weeks, but I say do all those things before conceiving if you can!
How do you do this when you have dairy allergies? I would love to drink 4 cups of milk and eat butter but the most I can do is ghee.
Hey Kelsye – Every person is different, so you need to do the best you can for your body. If you can eat ghee, that’s great! I would focus on lots of non-dairy fats, plus the ghee.
Also, if you haven’t already, I’d look into ways to heal your food allergies via lots of bone broth and probiotics – even if you’re end goal isn’t to eat milk, yogurt, and cheese – this will help to strengthen your overall health.
My sister, mother, aunt and grandmother all had to be hospitalized when pregnant because of severe morning (all day) sickness that lasted throughout their pregnancies. My sister, who is morbidly obese, loses 40-50 lbs during each pregnancy. Photos of my mother after giving birth show her to be skeletal. I don’t have children, but I assume I’d be in the same situation. I’ll pass some of this information on to my niece when the time comes for her to have children to see if some of the misery can be alleviated in the next generation.
Not only a pregnant woman, but also many women are experiencing morning sickness. This is an useful post to them.
Do you have a sample menu plan that include all these foods in a day (or for a week)? I’m eating these foods, but these quantities are more like what my whole family eats in a day.
Hi Rebecca – Thanks for your question. I don’t have a sample menu, but it sounds like you are on the right track by including these foods in your diet. Do what you can and what feels best to you. 🙂
I’m a HUGE believer in the magnesium theory! I followed a Weston A Price diet leading up to my pregnancy, along with acupuncture but I truly believe it was the magnesium oil I would spray and rub into my belly almost on a daily basis. I never experienced an ounce of nausea although my mother and grandmother experienced mild to moderate morning sickness.
I asked my nurse if I could use mag oil, and she said no at first. Then she said She guessed I could rub it on my feet, arms and wherever I usually do but just not on my belly. Why do you think she said that? I’m doing as she instructed, but I’m wondering why…
Morning sickness is hugely linked to B6 (folate ) deficiencies and many react to the crap folic acid in prenantals. As well as gallbladder,kidney, and liver issues struggling to process all the hormones. And MTHFR gene factor. I had Hyperemesis with my pregnancies. I would have dies on Weston prices advice with milk allergy and egg allergy. But the only thing that stopped iny 3rd pregnancy was acupuncture. I did high fish oils, methylated B’s, whole food vitamins and gluten, dairy, soy, egg free diet. And all the remedies for morning sickness – acupuncture was the key. It helped my acupuncturist is a friend and has TONS of knowledge beyond just acupuncture but I was so happy no enter the hospital especially after a kid from complications in my 2nd pregnancy.
Roslyn Ross says
With my first pregnancy I ate a high fat, high protein, medium carb diet and didn’t get morning sickness as long as I snacked. With my second pregnancy I eat WAPF diet and haven’t had even a hint of morning sickness.
That is a very interesting point about cholesterol being needed to make hormones and bile. I’ve long suspected morning sickness has to do with toxicity levels…so this would make so much sense (low bile —-> body can’t bind toxic stuff in the GI tract wo throws it up instead)! I wonder if bile supplements would help? Am curious if anyone’s tried that?
So much toxic junk gets stored in our fat cells and then during pregnancy so much stored fat gets burned- especially from week 7 on, around the time when sickness often starts. B6 is def needed for the liver to process out many of these substances. Maybe magnesium is too ???? ? Maybe WP + bile supplements + magnesium + B6 could eliminate morning sickness! That would be a miracle ????