Ask DadPad, Pregnancy

Ask DadPad: What is ‘morning sickness’, and how can I best support my partner?

Posted on 19th May 2023

Nausea and vomiting are pregnancy symptoms that many women experience, especially during the 1st trimester (weeks 4-12) of pregnancy. Often, nausea (feeling sick) and vomiting (actually being sick) are some of the earliest signs of pregnancy that women notice, along with a missed period, tender breasts, and a change in taste and smell sensitivities. Pregnancy sickness usually settles down between the 12th and 14th week of pregnancy; however some mums-to-be experience it for longer or all the way through their pregnancy.

In this blog, we’ve asked our Project Officer and resident doula, Georgie, to share the important information that you, as a dad-to-be, need to know about pregnancy sickness. It can be a pretty worrying and frustrating time for expectant dads, too, if your partner is experiencing nausea and sickness during pregnancy. Therefore the intention of this blog is to educate, share useful tips and tricks, and empower you to be the best pregnancy partner that you can be.

What causes pregnancy sickness?

Nausea and vomiting in pregnancy are thought to be caused by the change in hormones that occurs inside mum’s body during the baby’s early development in the womb (or uterus). However, it’s not clear why some women are more affected by it than others. What we do know is that it’s more likely to occur if:

  • your partner has experienced it in previous pregnancies, or others in her family have experienced it;
  • she experiences motion sickness (e.g. travel sickness in a car) or felt sick when taking the contraceptive pill;
  • she is carrying more than one baby; or
  • she is experiencing what’s called a molar pregnancy (a rare condition where the pregnancy does not grow correctly).

Hormones aren’t the only reason for causing a woman to experience sickness, though. Other conditions –  such as a urinary tract infection (UTI), kidney infection, gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining), appendicitis (a painful swelling and/or infection of the appendix) and gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach and intestines caused by a virus) – can also make you feel nauseous and cause vomiting. It is therefore important to encourage your partner to tell your Midwife if she is experiencing any new or ongoing symptoms at any time during her pregnancy.

Pregnancy sickness

Nausea and vomiting can be difficult pregnancy symptoms to cope with at any time during pregnancy. Contrary to its traditional name of ‘morning sickness’, it can occur at any time of the day or night.

The symptoms might include:

  • Loss of appetite;
  • Feeling lethargic (lacking energy) or weak;
  • Nausea;
  • Sensitivity in terms of smell or taste;
  • Vomiting;
  • Feeling low, anxious or depressed.

Experiencing early pregnancy can make any woman feel as if she is walking through treacle or has just come round from a general anaesthetic, even if she isn’t experiencing pregnancy sickness. This is because her body is working really hard beneath the surface to:

  • bring the important cell structures together to develop from a cluster of cells into a recognisable human form;
  • grow a placenta which will feed and nourish your developing baby throughout pregnancy; and
  • increase her blood volume to ensure that her body has the extra capacity to carry nutrients and oxygen to, and waste products from, the developing baby.

There is a lot going on in the early days of pregnancy, so it’s not surprising that many mums-to-be don’t feel 100%!

If your partner does experience nausea, it can range from anything from sudden waves of feeling sick right up to a constant ‘refrigerator hum’ feeling that never goes away. She may also become sensitive to certain smells or tastes (or even food temperatures) which can trigger or add to her pregnancy sickness symptoms. This can be a particularly frustrating experience for someone who usually enjoys food, or who is swinging between having no appetite at all and feeling desperately hungry.

Your partner may not always actually be sick, but she may experience sensations that are a pre-cursor to vomiting and which are equally unpleasant to cope with (an increase in saliva in her mouth, feeling light headed or panicky etc). If she does vomit, it can present as a single episode right through to a cycle of episodes that are difficult to stop. Every expectant mum experiences pregnancy sickness differently, but I’m sure you’ll agree with us that it sounds – and is – very unpleasant to have to cope with.

Constantly feeling nauseous and regularly vomiting can have a knock-on effect on your partner’s physical and metal wellbeing. It can affect all areas of her life including her home, work, hobbies, friendships, relationships, other caring responsibilities and her ability to get out and about. The symptoms can be so severe for some women that it causes them to develop poor mental health (e.g. anxiety and depression etc). In the most severe cases, some mums-to-be may feel like they can’t continue with the pregnancy because of the negative impact it is having on their life and overall wellbeing.

Hyperemesis gravidarum

For some women, their pregnancy sickness becomes so severe that it leads to severe dehydration and weight loss. If this is the case, she may be suffering with a severe form of pregnancy sickness called hyperemesis gravidarum (or HG for short). It’s thought to affect around 1-3 in every 100 expectant mums and usually lasts until around 20 weeks, but it sometimes continues for much longer.

Signs to look out for, in addition to the more common pregnancy sickness symptoms, include:

  • Sounding like she has, or complaining of having, a dry throat or feeling very thirsty;
  • Looking or complaining of feeling drowsy, weak or unwell; and/or
  • Experiencing a change in urine colour from light yellow to dark yellow or brown.

Will my partner need to go to hospital if she needs treatment if her pregnancy sickness is severe?

A woman who experiences severe pregnancy sickness – or HG – is likely to need hospital treatment at their local Maternity department at some point during her pregnancy; however, she should also be able to access some treatments via her local community care setting (such as a GP surgery or community hospital), too.

Reasons for hospital treatment may include:

  • Significant weight loss;
  • Physical collapse;
  • Having ketones (a chemical that your body produces when it is burning fat, due to the fact that it’s unable to get sufficient energy from more usual sources, such as glucose/sugars) in her urine (a sign of prolonged dehydration);
  • Struggling to keep any fluids or foods, down due to severe sickness;
  • Having had an abnormal blood test; and/or
  • Having another medical condition which could be impacted by HG.

If your partner does end up going to hospital due to severe pregnancy sickness, she will be given the fluids and anti-sickness medication that she needs though a drip in her arm. Her fluid intake and urine output will then be carefully monitored by the doctors and Midwives on the Maternity Ward. It also may be recommended that she wears surgical stockings and receives injections to thin her blood, as expectant mums can be at an increased risk of experiencing deep vein thrombosis (DVT) (where a blood clot forms in a vein, often in the leg – hence the stockings) due to being dehydrated and having reduced mobility.

When she is starting to feel better, your partner will be encouraged to start drinking and eating small amounts and to slowly build up to a normal diet. Her treatment will be continued until she is able to drink fluids and eat normally again without vomiting, and her observations (temperature, blood pressure, pulse, respiration (breathing) rate etc) are stable again. Your partner will be able to come home once her treatment is complete, but she may need multiple treatments if her nausea and sickness is difficult to control, or continues throughout their pregnancy.

What other treatment is available for pregnancy sickness?

If your partner isn’t sure why she is experiencing nausea and vomiting during her pregnancy, your Midwife can perform some basic tests and collect samples to send away for analysis, to help rule out other conditions that can cause sickness, in order to try and help identify the cause. Many infections that can cause nausea and vomiting either go away on their own with rest or can be treated with antibiotics. Also, if there is no other cause of the nausea and vomiting other than being pregnant and it is impacting her day-to-day wellbeing, there are a range of anti-sickness medications your partner may wish to explore, in conjunction with advice from her Midwife and GP.

It is also worth your partner considering taking anti-sickness medication (sometimes called antiemetics) if all other ways of managing her nausea and vomiting have been unsuccessful, or if her sickness is impacting on her day-to-day life and overall wellbeing; she does not have to have been hospitalised for pregnancy sickness before requesting or being offered anti-sickness medication. There are a variety of medicines that your partner can safely take, although not all anti-sickness medications can be used during pregnancy, so always make sure that she checks carefully with the prescribing person and/or the pharmacist – and lets them know that she’s pregnant.

How can I support my partner through pregnancy sickness?

It’s really important that you support your partner and understand that pregnancy nausea and sickness is not something she just has to ‘put up with’. There are lots of reasons why she may be experiencing sickness during her pregnancy and she should not feel ashamed of how pregnancy sickness is making her look or feel, or suffer silently.

Regardless of how long you and your partner have been trying to get pregnant or how welcomed this pregnancy is, it is important that your partner is able to freely express how she is feeling, in relation to her pregnancy symptoms – whether that be good or bad. Sometimes family and friends find it difficult to hear a pregnancy being discussed in a negative way, maybe because it is something they don’t have up-to-date understanding of, because they didn’t experience the same symptoms that your partner is experiencing, or because they had to cope with symptoms silently themselves in the past. Whatever the reason, you can show that you support her by hearing her out whenever she shares how she is feeling, and correcting any misinformation or outdated views in wider conversations.

There are also plenty of practical things you can do to help her, including making sure she has easy access to things that she might need to help her cope with her pregnancy sickness (especially in the car and out of the house). If her pregnancy sickness is unpredictable you may need to be able to act quickly, and to provide her with physical support through an episode.

A pregnancy sickness support kit could include:

  • Boiled sweets or mints to suck on;
  • An aromatherapy smell that she finds refreshing (always check that any aromatherapy oils etc are safe for use during pregnancy);
  • A cool drink of her choice to sip on;
  • A snack of her choice (something light, plain and carbohydrate-based is usually the best, such as a plain biscuit);
  • Wet wipes;
  • A fan or cool cloth;
  • A hair band or hair tie;
  • Sickness bags or a clean bucket (NB. whilst having a supply of sick bags can be really handy and discreet, they also can be fiddly to open up under duress – sometimes all your partner may have time to do is grab a bucket!); and
  • If on the road, spare water to rinse anything out and antiseptic wipes or spray, in case you don’t have access to running water.

If your partner isn’t able to leave the house due to her pregnancy sickness, you can still support her by making sure that she has all that she needs close to hand, helping to keep the bathroom and bedroom that she uses fresh and clean, and being mindful of cooking and food (and any other) smells that may trigger her. She may have preferred food and drink items that help her cope with her pregnancy sickness, so making sure that there is an accessible supply of these items at all times will go a long way to help her (and win you some brownie points, too!).

There’s some evidence to suggest that food and drinks containing ginger can help reduce pregnancy symptoms in some mums-to-be, so a packet of ginger nuts is always worth a try.  Similarly, it can help some pregnant mums if they have something light to eat – such as a plain biscuit or a piece of dry toast – before they get out of bed in the morning, so that’s something else you could offer to do to help support your partner.

If you have other dependents at home (e.g. children, pets, elderly relatives), you may need to take over your partner’s share of her responsibilities or even arrange for extra help temporarily. It is not easy watching someone you love struggle with pregnancy sickness, but providing her with plenty of opportunities to rest can make the difference between her coping and not.

Will our baby be OK?

There is no evidence to suggest that pregnancy sickness has a harmful effect on your baby – in fact, your partner will actually have a slightly lower risk of experiencing a miscarriage if she is experiencing nausea and sickness. It’s a hard thing for many mums-to-be to get their head around, especially if they are feeling particularly miserable, but pregnancy sickness is not necessarily a bad sign.

Women with severe pregnancy sickness or HG may end up having a baby with a lower than expected birthweight. This may be picked up by a Midwife from the regular observations taken during your partner’s appointments, or during the 20-week scan. Your partner may be offered additional growth scans to monitor the ongoing development of your baby.

Other sources of support

As well as having a click on some of the links below, which provide further information and reading on all the topics covered within this blog, you and your partner might also want to take a look at the Pregnancy Sickness Support website. The PSS charity aims to help improve the care, treatment and support provided for those experiencing both pregnancy sickness and HG. Their team is looking at researching both the causes and treatments of these conditions, together with the psychological impact that it has on sufferers and their families.

As well as detailed information on all aspects of both pregnancy sickness and HG, their website also has information on the support services that their team offers, including their helpline and peer-support.



References and further reading:

NHS (2020) Diarrhoea and vomiting. [online]

NHS (2020) Molar pregnancy. [online]

NHS (2021) Kidney infection. [online]

NHS (2021) Vomiting and morning sickness. [online]

NHS (2022) Appendicitis. [online]

NHS (2022) Gastritis. [online]

NHS (2022) Urinary tract infections (UTIs). [online]

NHS (2023) DVT (deep vein thrombosis). [online]

NHS (2023) Severe vomiting in pregnancy. [online]

Pregnancy Sickness Support website

Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (undated) Pregnancy sickness. [online]