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Say Goodbye to Morning Sickness During the First Trimester

Morning sickness is very common in the first trimester of pregnancy. Learn about the causes and ways to relieve the discomfort with TCM.

A young couple looking at an ultrasound photo while lounging on a couch

Television commercials and photographs featuring pregnant women often show the mothers-to-be with happy smiles on their glowing faces. Many people tend to forget that pregnancy also comes with its struggles: morning sickness.

The concept of morning sickness is familiar to most people, but there are still a lot of misunderstandings around it. This article will shed light on morning sickness, its causes, and ways to relieve it.

Morning Sickness: What and When

As you probably already know, morning sickness is nausea and vomiting women suffer during early pregnancy. Unlike the term suggests, though, morning sickness does not only occur in the mornings; instead, a woman may feel sick at any time and throughout the day (and night).

If you’re pregnant and not affected by nausea and vomiting, don’t worry because it’s normal. Not every pregnancy is accompanied by this ailment. It’s found in more than half of pregnant women, with about 70% to 80% suffering from nausea and vomiting. Other additional symptoms include headache, dizziness, poor appetite and back pain.

In most cases, morning sickness starts between the 4th week of pregnancy. The symptoms will usually go away on their own after the first trimester or around the 12th week of pregnancy. Still, if they persist, it’s imperative to consult a doctor immediately. When nausea and vomiting become severe and prolonged, followed by dehydration and weight loss, it’s a sign that the ailment has progressed into a condition named hyperemesis gravidarum. However, this condition is quite rare and affects 3-20 in 1,000 women.

Causes of Morning Sickness

A pregnant woman reading a book on her bed while touching her belly
One of the causes of morning sickness is hormonal changes.

The cause of morning sickness during pregnancy is not known. There is no one cause, and the severity varies among pregnant women.

From Western Medicine’s Perspective

According to National Health Service (NHS), one of the causes of morning sickness is the hormonal changes in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Several other risk factors can induce nausea and vomiting in a pregnant woman:

1. Twin pregnancies or other multiples

2. Severe sickness and vomiting in the previous pregnancy

3. Prone to motion sickness

4. Having a history of migraine

5. It runs in the family

6. When taking contraceptives containing oestrogen makes her sick

7. First pregnancy

8. Obesity

9. Stress

10. When she suffers from urinary tract infections (UTI). While its effects are felt in the bladder, a UTI can spread to the kidneys.

From TCM’s Perspective

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Physician Ho Li Ying at Eu Yan Sang clinic, Malaysia, explains another point of view on morning sickness.

According to TCM, the leading cause of morning sickness is a deficiency in the spleen and stomach. In TCM, qi and blood flow through both organs, making them the hub of the human’s body. When the spleen and stomach are weak, these disruptions happen:

  1. Qi and blood deficiency, bringing about dizziness and exhaustion
  2. Qi stagnation, causing vomiting and poor appetite
  3. Adverse rising of stomach qi, resulting in vomiting and headache

On top of that, there are two other causes of morning sickness. One is liver qi stagnation. TCM believes that migraine and adverse rising of stomach qi are the consequences of qi stagnation in the liver.

TCM also thinks that kidney deficiency is one of the root causes of morning sickness. A person’s kidney is essential to nourish their bones and spine. But when a woman carries a baby inside her, her kidney essence and qi are used to nourish her womb, creating a deficiency that manifests in back pain and dizziness.

How to Treat Morning Sickness

A pregnant woman sitting cross-legged on her bed while holding a cup of tea; a plate of biscuits in front of her
Ginger tea and light snacks might help with morning sickness.

Most of the time, morning sickness does not require any treatment, as it doesn’t put the mother-to-be and baby at risk. Depending on the symptoms and severity, doctors may prescribe anti-sickness medicine called antiemetic. But suppose the symptoms are hindering you from completing your daily activities. In that case, there are dietary and lifestyle changes you can make.

  1. Rest well
    Nothing beats a good rest. When you feel nauseous at night, the first step to do is lie down with a pillow to support your head. Take a deep breath and close your eyes to relax your body.

    Also, try staying away from rooms that are windy, have low temperature, are equipped with high-speed fans, etc. This is to avoid wind from disturbing the flow of qi in the body.
  2. Eat and drink in small portions
    Never skip meals no matter what! And instead of eating a big portion at one time, try consuming small portions frequently. Look for plain, bland, warm foods that are low in fat (bread, rice, pasta). However, refrain from salty, oily, fried, cold and spicy food.

    You can also try snacking on dry toast or plain biscuits 15 minutes before getting out of bed. Remember not to lie down again afterwards to avoid slow digestion and reflux. Lastly, be sure to keep hydrated by drinking small sips of water throughout the day.
  3. Nourish the body from within
    Consuming TCM-approved drinks or essences may help alleviate your morning sickness tendencies. One ingredient to try is ginger that contains an active compound, 6-gingerol, which gives it its antiemetic properties.

    Ginger has long been used as an effective treatment for nausea in patients following surgeries. A study involving more than a thousand pregnant women found that while ginger improved the symptoms of nausea, it didn’t have a significant impact on vomiting episodes.

    Additionally, physician Ho says that TCM also suggests consuming brown sugar ginger cubes to lessen the effects of stomach and spleen weakness.

    Other TCM remedies to try include
    a. Brown sugar longan red dates can treat dizziness caused by qi and blood deficiency.
    b. Chicken essence is believed to tonify qi and blood, enhancing pregnant women’s immunity
  4. Acupressure bracelets
    A study shows that acupressure bracelets can be effective in treating morning sickness. The bracelets work by stimulating the Neiguan (PC6) acupoint, thus reducing the intensity of nausea and vomiting during pregnancy.
  5. Do mood-boosting activities
    A simple exercise, such as yoga, does not only release endorphins but also strengthens the back muscles. Furthermore, getting a bit of fresh air might help with nausea.

Each pregnancy is different, so is morning sickness and how to manage it. Fortunately, Western doctors and TCM physicians offer various treatments that every mother-to-be can try to achieve a smoother and more comfortable pregnancy.


  1. National Health Service. 2020. Vomiting and Morning Sickness [online][Accessed 26 December 2021]
  2. American Academy of Family Physicians. 2014. Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy. [Online][Accessed 27 December 2021]
  3. US National Library of Medicine. 2011. Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy. [Online] [Accessed 27 December 2021]
  4. National Center for Biotechnology Information. 2014. A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effect and safety of ginger in the treatment of pregnancy-associated nausea and vomiting [online] [Accessed 27 December 2021]
  5. The New York Times. 2011. The Claim: Ginger Can Help Reduce Morning Sickness [online][Accessed 27 December 2021]
  6. 2020. The Effect of Acupressure on the Severity of Nausea, Vomiting, and Retching in Pregnant Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial [online] [Accessed 27 December 2021]

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