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.
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?