Feb 11, 2023 • 6 min read

Nausea After Eating Early in Pregnancy: Causes, Treatment, & More

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One of the most common early signs of pregnancy is experiencing nausea or vomiting, commonly known as morning sickness. Around 70% to 80% of women will experience nausea or morning sickness within the first trimester.

Feeling nausea on a daily basis, especially as soon as you wake up, can be frustrating, however, it helps to understand why our body undergoes these processes, what they serve, and natural ways to alleviate symptoms of morning sickness. 

Pregnant women are undergoing massive biological and psychological changes, many of which can manifest as nausea or morning sickness.

While there is not any one definitive explanation for exactly what triggers nausea early in pregnancy, there is a general consensus that contributing factors include hormonal changes and the body protecting the baby with natural defense mechanisms.

This guide goes over what causes morning sickness, how long it lasts, treatment options, and more.

What causes nausea in early pregnancy?

The most common explanation for morning sickness is the immense hormonal and gastrointestinal changes, especially during the first trimester. 

Influxes of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) and estrogen are known to increase nausea, vomiting, and food sensitivities and are a primary cause of lack of appetite during pregnancy.

hCG is produced by the placenta shortly after the egg is fertilized. This, in turn, stimulates maternal ovaries to secrete estrogen. Increased estrogen can cause stomach irritation and digestive discomfort due to the build-up of stomach acid, which can potentially explain why some women deal with morning sickness (especially when the stomach is empty). 

As the body prepares to grow a new life, pretty much everything consumed will either be accepted or rejected.

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Studies highlight the potential protective benefits of morning sickness. Your body’s defense mechanisms are kicking in by rejecting foods and smells that may be harmful to you or your baby. 

Another study found that women who experience nausea in the first trimester tend to have fewer miscarriages and stillbirths. Morning sickness is simply a natural part of the pregnancy process and will affect every woman differently. 

As the body processes immense hormonal and bodily changes it is only natural to experience some symptoms of discomfort. However, it is always best to seek guidance from your healthcare provider if any of your symptoms feel unbearable or life-threatening. 

Here’s a deeper look at the causes of nausea in early pregnancy:

Heightened levels of Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (hCG)

hCG hormones are at their peak during the first trimester. Research suggests that higher levels of hCG have been linked to nausea and vomiting, which could be why many women report less nausea and morning sickness in the second trimester when hormones have better leveled out.

An additional factor for hCG production is body mass. Research from the National Library of Medicine found that obesity can increase hCG levels by 50%, which can potentially explain why some women may experience more intense symptoms.

hCG also triggers the body to create more estrogen and progesterone, which can also be linked to nausea and vomiting. Progesterone and estrogen work to relax stomach muscles which changes the pace and way food is digested.

Gastrointestinal changes

Hormonal changes also slow down the digestive system, meaning everything consumed will remain in the small intestine longer. Gastrointestinal muscles are starting to relax and prepare for growth which slows digestion. 

Pregnancy heartburn

Heartburn, indigestion, and acid reflux during pregnancy can be related to hormonal and gastrointestinal changes. According to the NIH, 80% of pregnant women will experience pregnancy heartburn, indigestion, or gestational reflux. 

Symptoms are typically noted following eating or drinking and can occur anytime during pregnancy. 

Hyperosmia 

Hyperosmia is described as a heightened sensitivity to smells. Shifting hormone levels (such as hCG) are said to impact the sense of smell which can trigger nausea and vomiting. Hyperosmia may make typically normal smells unbearable and may trigger vomiting, such as perfumes and chemicals.

Fatigue/stress

Psychological stressors, such as stress and anxiety, can induce nausea and vomiting. Finding ways to alleviate stress and anxiety are important during pregnancy, especially for women who may be more prone to morning sickness. 

>> Find a prenatal nutritionist that can help with nausea early in pregnancy

When do you start experiencing nausea when pregnant?

Morning sickness may be one of the first signs and symptoms that you may be pregnant.  Women typically start experiencing morning sickness around 6 weeks after conception. 

Symptoms of morning sickness and nausea are said to improve by the second or third trimester but can persist for some women. While it is rare, 1 in 100 women will experience hyperemesis gravidarum, a severe case of prolonged vomiting and nausea. 

Can you be hungry and nauseous at the same time while pregnant?

Many pregnant women experience intense cravings, hunger, and nausea all at the same time. This is normal and why it is advised to eat small meals during the day to avoid extreme hunger and digestion issues. 

Pregnancy hormones loosen the stomach and allow stomach acid to reach the esophagus, which is known as acid reflux. 

Not eating can also cause nausea due to stomach acid buildup, typically occurring during pregnancy. If you are hungry and nauseous try eating something light such as toast or crackers before bed or upon waking. 

You can learn more about the best foods to eat during the first trimester here, including those that can help reduce morning sickness.

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How long does nausea last during pregnancy?

Morning sickness most often fades between 14 to 20 weeks. Some women will experience nausea throughout all trimesters which can be normal or indicate something more serious such as hyperemesis gravidarum. 

>> Read More: Nausea During the Third Trimester of Pregnancy: Causes & Treatment

When to seek medical attention for nausea during pregnancy?

It is always best to consult with your doctor about any symptoms that are impacting your day-to-day life. If you experiencing the following symptoms, seek medical attention: 

  • Severe dehydration 
  • Nausea/vomiting 
  • Inability to eat or drink 
  • Dark colored urine 
  • Weight loss 
  • Extreme fatigue

Even if you aren’t experiencing any of the above, it can be helpful to work with a prenatal nutritionist to help with nausea and other issues as well as to make sure you’re getting the correct nutrients for your baby.

>> Find a prenatal nutritionist that can help with nausea early in pregnancy

Medication options for nausea during pregnancy

While medication is not typically prescribed to women experiencing nausea, you may be given some depending on the severity and longevity of your symptoms. Any medication or treatment should be discussed with your health providers before you start it.

If you or your health provider suspects hyperemesis gravidarum, medical interventions may be prescribed.

The only FDA-approved medications for hyperemesis gravidarum and nausea/vomiting during pregnancy are Pyridoxine and Doxylamine:

  • Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6): Pyridoxine is prescribed with doxylamine to reduce nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. Pyridoxine can be bought as a supplement or found in common food sources like beef liver, tuna, salmon, and leafy vegetables. 
  • Doxylamine: Doxylamine is an anti-histamine prescribed with Pyridoxine to help block certain substances that trigger nausea and vomiting. Doxylamine typically causes sleepiness and drowsiness. 

Tips for soothing nausea during early pregnancy

There are many natural remedies and other ways to treat nausea early in pregnancy without medicine. Some alternative remedies that may help alleviate symptoms include:

  • Herbs: Some herbs like ginger, raspberry, and peppermint leaf are known to be helpful for nausea relief. Herbal remedies have been used for thousands of years to aid various ailments. Ginger specifically is a common ingredient and treatment for nausea and indigestion. One study found that pregnant women who took 1 gram of ginger per day felt less nauseous compared to placebo.
  • Acupuncture: Acupuncture can alleviate various pregnancy and postpartum issues, including nausea and vomiting. Various studies show acupuncture to be an effective treatment for women who experience morning sickness in early pregnancy. 
  • Acupressure: Acupressure is also alternative medicine used to alleviate energy blockages related to illness and pain such as nausea. There are various methods of acupressure. Some women have reported experiencing less severe nausea and morning sickness after receiving acupressure.  
  • Foods: Try sticking to eating smaller meals throughout the day. Avoid spicy and acidic foods, which increase heartburn. If you are feeling nauseous and hungry, opt for blender snacks such as toast or crackers. Avoid skipping meals and having an empty stomach. 

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