'Stop trivialising it': why we need to drop the term 'morning sickness'

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock 

Anyone who has ever suffered from pregnancy nausea and sickness knows that the term 'morning sickness' is a cruel irony. And now, we have the science to prove it. 

Researchers at the University of Warwick looked at the daily symptom diaries of 256 pregnant women. The participants used the dairies to record nausea and vomiting for the first 60 days of their pregnancy.  

The data showed that while vomiting was most common between the hours of 7am and 1pm, nausea is highly likely throughout the whole day, not just the morning. On top of this, many of the women reported vomiting as a symptom in the evening. 

In the study, published in the British Journal of General Practice, Professor Roger Gadsby, of Warwick Medical School, says that while the term 'morning sickness' is widely used by the general public, media and even healthcare professionals, it doesn't give an accurate description of the condition. 

"The continued use of the term 'morning sickness' could imply that symptoms only rarely occur in the afternoon and evening so that sufferers will have significant parts of the day symptom-free," he writes. 

"This study shows that this is an incorrect assumption and that symptoms, particularly nausea, can occur at any time of the day." 

Gadsby goes on to note that nausea and sickness in pregnancy can have a significant negative impact on the lives of sufferers. "It can cause, feelings of depression, of being unable to look after the family, and of loss of time from paid work," he says. 

The term 'morning sickness' has really trivialised the experience of women suffering from pregnancy sickness and nausea. Trivialising it means that many women feel that it's something that they just need to put up with, rather than seeking help.   

I suffered from sickness and nausea throughout my first pregnancy. During the first trimester I vomited at least six times a day. Despite this, I didn't feel comfortable taking time off work.

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My boss, while sympathetic, made me feel like I was exaggerating my symptoms. "How's the morning sickness today?" he'd ask me with a smile or a chuckle, as I prayed that I would get though our meeting without running to the bathroom to vomit. 

It was like 'morning sickness' was a mild inconvenience, not something that was making every day a misery. To compound this, I was often told that the 'morning sickness' was a good thing ("The baby is healthy!"), which made me feel bad for complaining. 

My experience was mild compared to the thousands of women who suffer from Hyperemesis Gravidarm (HG), an extreme and debilitating pregnancy sickness, in which sufferers can't even hold down a glass of water. Women experiencing HG are often hospitalised – and yet there are still medical professionals who refer to HG as 'severe morning sickness.' 

The crux of it is that women who are experiencing HG or pregnancy sickness and nausea need support. There is plenty that could be done to make this part of pregnancy easier to navigate such as flexible work arrangements and medication. 

Having the symptoms taken seriously would be a good place to start. So let's call it what it is and drop the patronising term 'morning sickness' for good