Pregnant moms and their passengers are about as connected as two creatures can be, and it's normal to wonder what a baby — even a tiny fetus — experiences as you go about your daily life. Of course, one of the first rollercoasters you'll board together is a tilt-a-whirl called "morning sickness." What happens to your baby when you have morning sickness? If you're hugging the toilet, is your new baby getting the nutrition she needs? According to the March of Dimes, about 70 percent of women suffer from nausea and vomiting during the first trimester, and some have it for even longer. But what is its impact?
As it turns out, nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy (AKA "morning sickness") don't affect your baby much. For one thing, at the gestational age when you're feeling seasick, that baby is "really, really tiny," according to Dr. Bradley Price, an OB-GYN from Austin, Texas. At six weeks, you're talking about a fetus the size of a sweet pea, reported The Bump, and at 12 weeks, when most women are already feeling better, a baby's still only about 2 inches long. As Price notes, a baby this size doesn't need a whole lot of nutrients yet.
For another thing, a pregnant body is incredibly efficient at continuing to direct blood flow to the uterus, despite mom's possible dehydration. Even when blood stops circulating in skin and muscles — giving you that awesome green-around-the-gills glow — the body continues to send blood to your uterus, as well as to your heart, lungs, kidney, and brain, Price explains. It's about priorities, people.
However, when morning sickness is severe and you're vomiting repeatedly, the loss of macronutrients like water, salt, and sugar can indeed make you very sick, and even land you in the hospital. But Price doesn't let things get to that point. For persistent morning sickness, over-the-counter treatments like ginger and even the sleeping aid Unisom, especially when combined with vitamin B6, have been proven to help.
Also, check out your prenatal vitamin. Is it generic, or prescription? "The iron in most all over-the-counter vitamins is iron salt, such as ferrous sulfate," explains Price. "Those are poorly absorbed and can aggravate acid reflux and virtually guarantee constipation." Especially if you're struggling with morning sickness, talk to your doctor about prescription prenatal vitamins, which are generally smaller, better engineered, and likely to contain ferrous asparto glycinate (Sumalate), a kind of iron that won't make you sick.
So in terms of what's happening to your baby when you're losing your lunch yet again — well, she's not experiencing much, and your body does a great job of protecting her even when you're dehydrated.
Believe it or not, there's even an upside for your baby where morning sickness is concerned. A 2016 study published in Jama Internal Medicine associated nausea and vomiting in pregnancy with a decreased chance of miscarriage. "You can even think about that when you’re feeling nauseous — chances are very good that it’s going to be a keeper," says Price.
When you're feeling miserable, it also helps to know that morning sickness may well have other benefits for a developing baby. "Some people take the point of view that nausea and vomiting is actually protective during pregnancy, by forcing women to make better food choices," he says. After all, who wants a fatty cut of meat or a shot of tequila when the world is spinning? Gatorade, on the other hand, can work wonders by replacing lost electrolytes. Finally, if over-the-counter treatments don't work, you can ask your doctor about prescription medications to control your morning sickness.
Because severe dehydration can send you to the emergency room, Price recommends that women experiencing daily nausea and vomiting before their first appointment with an OBGYN — usually scheduled for the six-week mark — come in early to talk about managing their morning sickness. "Don't suffer in silence," he says.
Dr. Bradley Price, OB-GYN
Hinkle S, Mumford S, Grantz K. (2016) Association of Nausea and Vomiting During Pregnancy With Pregnancy Loss. JAMA Internal medicine, https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/2553283.