We've explained that nausea and vomiting of early pregnancy (NVP) are an insurance policy for our growing baby. While this is good to know, it doesn't address the feelings of blah, that can come with NVP all day, every day.
Optimising your health and knowing that you are adequately nourished is a great thing to do in the 6-12 months prior to conception. Establishing a healthy eating regime and ensuring daily physical activity will be highly beneficial for pregnancy success.
Beyond eating small meals, eating protein rich meals and avoiding known triggers (smells, foods etc), what else can you do to get some relief?
There are multiple pieces of evidence showing that ginger, acupressure and increased vitamin B6 may be beneficial (in studies compared to placebo) in relieving the discomfort associated with nausea and/or vomiting early in pregnancy.
Let’s look at those ingredients in a bit more detail then.
Ginger is a flowering plant and the rhizome (root) is eaten. Ginger contains pungent phenolic substances collectively known as gingerols. 6-Gingerol is the major pharmacologically-active component of ginger. It is known for its outstanding benefits, including anticancer, anti-inflammation, and anti-oxidation. Its secret superpower relates to the job it has in your gut. As you eat, the ginger acts directly on your digestive tract. It can increase gastric contractility (the bit where your food breaks down) speeding up gastric emptying and therefore increasing the transit time of meals. This amazing function can decrease the feeling of nausea. We’ll take it! Even the slightest ease can be magical when you feel like this.
What do other complementary medicines say about ginger?
For thousands of years, Chinese Medicine has described ginger as expansive, drying and warming. It is used to support the lower extremities - the colon, kidneys, ovaries, sexual organs and legs. In Ayurvedic Medicine, similar to the Western Medicine benefits described earlier, its energy is heating and it warms the digestive system.
As if that wasn’t enough, to our knowledge, at least 9 trials have been conducted on ginger vs placebo or ginger vs vitamin B6 to investigate its effectiveness for symptomatic relief for pregnancy associated nausea and vomiting.
Each of the trials concluded that ginger was MORE EFFECTIVE than placebo in relieving the intensity of nausea or NVP in general and MORE EFFECTIVE or AS EFFECTIVE as high dose vitamin B6. Other studies have investigated the safety and pregnancy outcomes after ginger and noted some mild side effects of high dose, but no adverse outcomes. That means ginger is a safe and effective option for women who experience NVP.
The evidence for reducing the number of vomiting episodes is less convincing.
So how much ginger do you need?
The amount, type and quality of ginger has varied between studies, so it is not clear how much should be taken. Studies typically used 0.5-1g of ginger/day in 125 or 250mg doses 4 times/day. Doses in excess of 6g (which is a lot!) may cause heartburn and upset the stomach and inhalation of ginger dust may lead to some IgE mediated allergy.
Recommendations for pregnant women in Australia advise not consuming more than 1g of ginger/day.
A 2013 review of the available evidence found that ~1g daily for at least 4 days was associated with a 5-fold increase in likelihood of an improvement in nausea and vomiting of pregnancy symptoms.
Vitamin B6 is found in beef liver, fish, chickpeas, chicken, and some fruits and vegetables including leafy greens and bananas. B6 may be more effective than placebo at reducing nausea, but we don’t know about vomiting. Vitamin B6 appears to be less effective than ginger in reducing nausea, and as effective as ginger at reducing vomiting (limited evidence). Typically vitamin B6 is supplemented at high levels, 10-25mg/day. Recommended daily intake of vitamin B6 from food in pregnancy is only 1.9mg/day and upper limits are set to 40-50mg/day.
Acupressure is the application of pressure to specific points of the body. There is some evidence that the use of wrist bands and acupressure at point KID21 (abdomen) or P6 (on the wrist) reduces the severity of nausea symptoms in early pregnancy. Some individuals may experience discomfort from wearing the wrist band, but it’s worth a try if all else fails as many women have reported great success with the intervention.
Lemon inhalation aromatherapy may be effective at reducing the symptoms of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. This has only been shown in 1 study, and women self reported the severity of their nausea and vomiting symptoms over a 4 day period. To us scientists, this is considered weak evidence, but if you find lemon eases your quease...then go for it.
Remember that this is evidence from other people, not you (unless you were a participant in one of these studies!), therefore you may or may not get the same benefits. These studies vary in their quality, and other than ginger and vitamin B6, have not been widely studied. That said, these interventions are all considered low risk, in that there is little to no risk of trying them. So you might like to give them a go.
So, what to do with all this information?
Again, we want you to remember that your body is wise. It knows what to do to protect you, and your growing small people. Nausea and vomiting are not fun. We get it. But they serve a purpose.
Next, know that there are several natural interventions that you can try, to reduce the severity of your symptoms. If you ask us, ginger is the queen bee here. She’s so multi talented that we shine a spotlight on her in our lemme feel well bites. Partnered with her fresh mate lemon, she may be all you need to ease that nasty quease.