Pregnancy Sickness Took Over Our Lives. Here’s What Got Us Through

Morning sickness shouldn’t be called morning sickness – but rather, all-day-everyday-nightmare sickness. It’s not a minor pregnancy affliction that makes you feel “a bit nauseous in the morning”, like the name suggests. It can be experienced at any time of day and at multiple times, too.

Take it from someone who spent three months living off breadsticks and mashed potato – and who is now fully acquainted with the bathroom floor.

I was so excited when I found out I was pregnant, but within a matter of weeks, this feeling turned to something else entirely. One Saturday morning, when I was six weeks along, I sat down and ate my usual bowl of cereal. The next thing I knew I was staring at it again, at the bottom of a very different bowl.

From that day on, I felt sick pretty much all the time. When we left the house I’d have to take an ‘emergency’ carrier bag with me. When we went on our daily walk and I’d smell someone’s cooking, I’d gag and swiftly bury my nose in my jacket. Nothing remotely healthy stayed in my stomach for more than a couple of minutes – not apricot wheats, not apples, and especially not broccoli.

The only thing I could do was eat small amounts of breadsticks little and often, sip water throughout the day (but not too much, as that would inevitably come back up!) and hope for the best. I never expected it would be like this.

The nausea can have you feeling fine one moment, then ejecting porridge out of your nose and mouth the next. It can leave you weak, emotional and exhausted – often during a time when no one knows about your pregnancy. Morning sickness typically occurs during the first trimester – the trimester women tend to keep their pregnancy a secret. This silence doesn’t help.

During those early weeks, I tried everything to stop feeling sick: travel sickness bands, ginger biscuits, tea. I googled remedies over and over, but couldn’t find a satisfying answer. In the end, eating breadsticks little got me through. I’d have one as soon as I got out of bed, and continue nibbling them throughout the day, teaming it with tiny sips of water.

By lunchtime, I could manage a small bit of sandwich. At dinner, some mashed potato or anything beige. I spent a lot of that time looking pale and feeling weak, often wiping tears from my eyes as I shut the toilet door behind me.

Around the 12-week mark, my vomiting and nausea began to calm down. By 16 weeks it had gone – except for one random morning during a virtual meeting, when I had to swiftly turn off my camera to dash and “shout at the loo”.

Coming out the other side, I couldn’t help but wonder how many women must experience this – and whether there was a particular remedy that helped get them through.

Around 80% of pregnant women end up with so-called morning sickness – often referred to as Nausea and Vomiting in Pregnancy (NVP) – and in up to 3% of cases, this can be severe. Known as hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), it can cause dehydration and malnourishment, with some needing hospital treatment.

“The exact cause of pregnancy sickness isn’t known.”

– Dr Shazia Malik, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at The Portland Hospital

Why sickness happens is a bit of a grey area. It’s widely agreed it’s probably because of hormonal changes during the start of pregnancy, but Dr Shazia Malik, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at The Portland Hospital, part of HCA UK, says “the exact cause isn’t known”. Some factors may mean you’re more likely to experience sickness, such as: if other members of your family have experienced it, if this is your first baby, if you have experienced severe sickness with previous pregnancies, or if you’re having twins or triplets.

Considering it’s so common, I was surprised treatment options are thin on the ground. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, women were given Thalidomide, which led to children being born with birth defects in one of the biggest health scandals in history. Now, a short-term course of an anti-sickness medicine called an antiemetic is used – usually for HG. Those who can’t keep pills down might have it injected, or inserted rectally.

There are suggested remedies for standard pregnancy sickness on the NHS website – rest, eating little and often, drinking plenty of fluids, and consuming dry food before you get out of bed, to name a few. Many women try multiple options to stop vomiting, in the hope one of them will stick.

Gemma Nice, 38, from Steyning, West Sussex, says the NHS advice helped her – eating little and often really got her through. Her nauseousness started at week five in both her pregnancies, and ended by week 12 in the first and week 30 in the second. Rich tea biscuits were a godsend, too, she says. “In my second pregnancy I’d be sick when I’d have healthy smoothies – it was so weird,” she adds. “My daughter must have liked all the sugary things!”

She felt tired, run down and cried every time she was sick. “I hate being sick,” she says. “It’s just a reflex that I cry.”

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