If you’re reading this because you have severe morning sickness,* or hyperemesis gravidarum, I’m so sorry. I’ve been there. Twice. I understand what it’s like to feel unbelievably sick every minute for months — to barely be able to eat or drink or get out of bed. I didn’t even have it as badly as some, and I still consider my pregnancies among my most challenging times.
I debated even writing about it. Aside from severe morning sickness being tough to relive, even through a blog, I realize everyone has different triggers, and no silver bullets exist. But I also know that even a moment of lightened symptoms is a gift when you’re so sick, and maybe something on this list can help you find that. Or at the least, make you feel less alone. Because all the content out there suggesting ginger and saltines can feel just as isolating as watching so many others roll through easy pregnancies.
So here it is: Aside from getting IV fluids, the following nine actions — which revolve around lessening smells and finding mental strength — acted as my only sources of (slight) relief.
What helped me during severe morning sickness:
1. Finding scentless toiletries
Sufferers of severe morning sickness commonly experience extreme sensitivity to smell. I was one of them. And once I realized how many scents I encountered in the morning alone, I turned to Amazon to see what I could do about it.
While I couldn’t find scentless substitutes for all of my toiletries, these products carried me through:
- Soap: Tom’s of Maine Natural Beauty Bar Soap with Aloe Vera, Fragrance Free
- Shampoo: Christina Moss Naturals Organic Shampoo (Unscented)
- Lotion: Eucerin Baby Lotion (Fragrance Free & Hypoallergenic)
- Belly Oil: Garden of Life Organic Extra Virgin Coconut Oil (Note: This did have a slight, natural scent, but I could tolerate it on many days; lotion just didn’t cut it once my belly began to stretch.)
Obviously, every nose differs — especially during severe morning sickness, when many of us pick up on smells nobody else can. I hope if you try any of these products that you can tolerate them, too.
2. Giving visitors a heads-up on triggers
If you have a partner living with you, they’ll learn some of your triggers pretty fast. But what about the babysitter, or family coming to visit? I’m afraid to share too much about my experience and risk mentioning any of your triggers, but I will say some of my worst episodes came from smells others brought into the house — mainly in the form of their own toiletries or beauty products. So I started talking to visitors beforehand.
One tip on this: I found out reminders were key, at least early on. It’s too easy for people to throw on scented hair products out of habit, or not realize their coat still smells from yesterday’s perfume. Luckily, our regular visitors did eventually learn to stay mindful on their own about recognizing these things before coming over.
3. Changing breathing habits
I had to work through both pregnancies. The only thing that saved me with this last one, during which my severe morning sickness became much worse, was making it a habit to breathe out of my mouth. In triggering settings, like the office kitchen, I became very intentional about shutting my nose off to everything, including breaths. Then the habit stuck. I still felt terrible, but no nose-breathing meant no smells, which helped me not to lose it in front of any co-workers.
4. Telling a co-worker as soon as possible
Through each experience with severe morning sickness, I told at least one co-worker I worked closely with early on. This took off some of the pressure when I had to leave the office because of smells and meant I didn’t have to worry that my quieter demeanor might get interpreted as disengagement. The people I told surprised me with the amount of support they offered, unasked.
5. Trying to mitigate the mom guilt
Severe morning sickness took me miles from all of the rainbows and butterflies that books and movies make pregnancy out to be. At first, this distance brought guilt. I could hardly sort through it without well-meaning people reminding me that I should be consistently happy because I was pregnant, which only escalated things.
By my second pregnancy, I made a conscious decision to stop the internal battle. Yes, I felt tremendously grateful to be pregnant, but I also felt ready to acknowledge that what I was going through was really hard, which meant it was okay if I didn’t love every single minute of those nine-plus months. This didn’t eradicate my other sources of guilt — I felt it for not being able to eat healthy foods, or play as hard with baby #1 — but even chipping away at one layer freed up mind space to help me focus on pushing through.
6. Putting a motivational countdown in an easy-to-see place
In a moment of desperation at the beginning of my second pregnancy, I grabbed a dry erase marker and wrote this on my bedroom mirror: 6 more weeks. You’ve done this before and can do it again.
I chose a 12-week countdown in optimism, hoping I might feel better after the first trimester like normal morning sickness. Not the case, but the motivating mirror messages stuck. On the days I couldn’t get out of bed, I only needed to roll over to see them. Then with each new week, I found energy in drawing a smaller number.
7. Remembering it would end
I found an online support group for hyperemesis after Amy Schumer posted on her Instagram that one got her through pregnancy. The biggest thing that helped there? Moms who had come out on the other side, with pictures of their beautiful new babies to prove it. There was the big aha: Oh yeah, this ends as soon as the baby comes. Even in my second pregnancy, I needed that reminder to cut through the all-encompassing sickness. I imagined the moment I’d meet our baby and tried to hold on until he arrived.
**TRIGGER WARNING (Food/taste mentions)**
Note: If reading about food/tastes will trigger you to be sick, stop reading here. Good luck, mama. You’ve got this.
8. Finding milder toothpaste
I know I’m not the only one who could barely brush their teeth from severe morning sickness — and typical mint toothpastes were out of the question. While I couldn’t find any scentless or flavor-free options, I did discover a milder one: Tom’s of Maine Whole Care Fluoride Toothpaste (Spearmint). This didn’t solve the challenge of brushing teeth, but did make it slightly more bearable.
9. Letting someone who knew my safe foods explore new options
For weeks at a time, I typically had only about one to two safe foods, or foods that I could get down and hold down. My mother-in-law started bringing over just one or two similar options weekly. Sometimes, just looking at the new food got me sick. Other times, she found things I could eat — even just a new brand of my safe food with a slightly different taste. She even discovered a drink I could tolerate when my dehydration peaked.
It’s worth saying, though: My mother-in-law understood how to do this carefully, without bringing a ton of smells or visual triggers into the house.
There were also the obvious things that helped: staying out of public, avoiding kitchens and leaning on those closest to me. But the nine things in this blog include those I discovered as my severe morning sickness progressed. I hope even the smallest idea helps you in even the smallest way.
Less than nine months to go. You can do this.
*If you’re doing research for a loved one with severe morning sickness, keep doing what you’re doing. My dad came over at the beginning of my last pregnancy with printed articles about sickness during pregnancy. Warm moments like those also helped get me through.
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