How to Deal With the Emotional Effects of Morning Sickness During Pregnancy

Pregnant woman with eyes closed sitting on the couch

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Playing host to a tiny human can be the most thrilling and also the most challenging experience you’ve ever had. Some parts of pregnancy are quite fun, like watching your belly jiggle as a growing baby stretches and kicks. Other bits such as figuring out how to deal with morning sickness can be miserable and overwhelming. You might suffer nausea, vomiting, and dry heaving, not just in the mornings (as the name suggests), but throughout the entire day.

Often, those expecting still have to care for children and the household while feeling unwell. It's difficult to prepare meals for the rest of the family when the scent of cooking is unbearable. Sometimes, even the smell of clean laundry can be overpowering! Throw in juggling work responsibilities on top of home life and even the most upbeat of women can become discouraged. 

It's important to take care of your emotional health while battling nausea—and below, we are sharing some coping methods.

Mitigating Morning Sickness

Try different homeopathic efforts to relieve the physical symptoms of morning sickness. You might find some success in mitigating nausea through a change in diet and eating habits.

Search for Supporters

Even though you may be trying to keep the news of a new pregnancy quiet for the first several weeks or months, consider confiding in a close friend. Having someone who understands why you seem to be distant lately can lessen your guilt about keeping your social circle in the dark. You may also not be ready to disclose your pregnancy at work, but telling at least one trusted co-worker at your workplace will help you feel less isolated.

Ugochi Emenaha, Houston-based author and mom of one, had an easier time at work after telling co-workers why she did not seem quite herself lately. “I was teaching at the time and I had to work through morning sickness," she says. "For a while, nobody knew I was pregnant but once I told them, I felt a sense of relief. I was fortunate to work with really caring people," she says. "I had a co-worker who literally bought Sprite just for me. The entire time I thought it was a work stash but it turned out that she had been purchasing it so that I would have something to settle my stomach. I think it would have been much harder to go through all of it by myself.”

For stay-at-home moms, finding a group of other pregnant moms, whether online or in-person, would be a good place to find empathy and support. The same goes for moms who work from home. It’s easier when you know that others are going through the same thing and that you are not alone in your struggle. Plus, then you'll have made friends with people who will likely be on maternity leave at the same time.

Start a Survival Routine

Start a "survival routine," when you only do what you need to in order to make it through the day. Push off the social obligations, volunteer work, and all unnecessary activities until you're up for it. It is often hard for many to feel like they’re being unproductive, but if all you did is get through a difficult day, then consider it a win.

Allie Gannon from Austin, Texas is pregnant with her third child and had morning sickness with all of her pregnancies. She could not do much when she was suffering through it. “I rested a lot and would go to bed as soon as I put my older two boys to bed every night,” says Gannon.

Some who are working might have to take sick days, or time off, while the worst of it passes. Jennifer Wu from Bellaire, Texas, who already had a toddler when she became pregnant again, decided to take a break from work altogether.

“With my second, the morning sickness was a lot more debilitating and I don’t think I would have been able to work through it," she says. "I would’ve been very anxious not knowing how long I was going to be off work for and how work was going to feel about it. Emotionally, I felt so sick I didn’t have a lot of bandwidth to feel much else. I was just going to do what I needed to do to make it through, knowing that some things will have to fall through the cracks, and that’s OK.”

Compassionate Idea of Functioning

Beth Brawley MA, LPC, Adjunct Professor at the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis thinks that perhaps people can shift to a new and compassionate idea of functioning.

"Instead of feeling like a failure if you didn't do anything today, we can move to a different mindset," she says. "Tell yourself, 'Even though I feel like a failure, that doesn’t make it true. In this moment, I am creating and sustaining multiple lives. The laundry/dishes/phone call/art project can wait.' I encourage each of us to check in with ourselves about our definition of the ideas of functioning and productivity."

Motivate with Mindfulness

Gannon wonders whether it is her hectic pace with two kids at home, or getting older, that is making her current pregnancy more challenging than her previous ones. Still, she tries to dwell on what she does know to be true.

“Emotionally, this time around has felt more difficult," she says. "Having experienced morning sickness before, though, it is reassuring in a way that my body is doing what it’s supposed to do. So, I have tried to keep perspective that this will pass.”

When anxiety starts to creep in, Brawley suggests using tools like mindfulness and self-compassion. Instead of thinking of all the “what ifs” of your situation, such as “what if I can’t function today?”, she encourages women to move away from those unanswerable questions. Instead, bring yourself back to the present moment.

Think of the things that have gone right so far, and make a mental gratitude list when you feel the anxious thoughts slipping in. Focusing on what you can do, as well as finding ways to stay positive and grateful, are proven to boost your mood and may help women through the difficulties of dealing with morning sickness.

"I focus on staying as hydrated as possible and always have a big water bottle with me," Gannon says. "I haven’t been able to resume my typical physical activity level quite yet, but I do focus on at least going for a 40-minute walk every day because I know it will make me feel better. Also, focusing on the baby snuggles that are headed my way help too!"

Mindfulness Technique

Brawley teaches a mindfulness technique that has helped many of her patients. “I like the mindfulness 5-4-3-2-1 practice where we can check in with our senses in a non-judgmental manner," she says. "We’re not identifying what we like or dislike; just what is. In any order we wish, we identify five things we can see, four things we can hear, three things we can feel…and so on."

If you want to practice the technique, you might look around and name five things around you that you see, such as books, houseplants, the rug, and so on. Then listen carefully and note four sounds you hear which might include a running dishwasher or a passing car outside. To identify three things you can feel just stretch out your hand and touch what's around you and describe to yourself what it feels like. You might tell yourself that the coffee mug feels warm and smooth, or that your shirt feels soft and thin. Slowing down to engage your senses can bring you back to the present in a calming way.

Another thing you can try is to be intentional about engaging in compassionate dialogue and touch. Send your brain the message that you are enough as is. Give yourself a hug, place your hands over your heart, and give your body the love and care it deserves.

Brawley also suggests a supportive statement to go along with it, such as: “This is really hard right now and it is okay to feel anxious/sad/frustrated. My pain and struggle are valid. I can do difficult things.”

Accept Assistance

Brawley teaches her clients to voice their needs to others as another way to cope. “I encourage us to ask for and accept support," she says. "Use your voice and advocate for your needs. True, not everyone will be able or willing to meet these needs but we do increase the probability of them being met when we use our voice.”

Speak to your spouse and family members to figure out a plan to reshuffle responsibilities and see if there is a good way to divide and conquer housework and chores. Wu says she was very irritable during the morning sickness period, and she was glad her husband took on additional responsibilities at home. “He had to take on a lot more housework, meal prep, and help with the toddler while I just laid on the couch with my eyes closed,” she explains. 

Dr. Stephanie T. Ros, MD MSCI, Associate Professor of Maternal Fetal Medicine, agrees that reshuffling responsibilities can be helpful. “No one wants to be active when they're nauseous, and sometimes that—paired with first-trimester exhaustion—is just too much for some parents-to-be to bear," Dr. Ros explains. "Ask for people in your support system for help. Having someone take older children for a play date might help with the guilt of not providing meaningful fun for their other children.”

You might want to reach out to other parents at your children's school and see whether they can bring your kids home for you. If you have pets that need attention, ask a neighborhood family whether they can walk your dog, clean out the cat litter, or play with any other little critters that might get neglected while you are feeling your worst. Perhaps a family member can come by weekly to run a few random errands until you feel better.

This is also a good time to think about outsourcing household chores to professionals for a while. Consider using a laundry service or hire a housekeeper for a few months if you are struggling.

Gannon realized that being in the kitchen was going to be nearly impossible when she was so sensitive to smells. Just the thought of handling raw food plus the aroma from any kind of cooking made her feel like throwing up. “The most difficult thing to do was look at or prepare any type of food," she says. "I am thankful for a husband that was willing to assist but also thankful for DoorDash, so I could outsource meals to keep our bellies full! I have had to give myself lots of grace and be willing to ask for and accept help.”

Gannon approached her doctor for assistance by asking about medication to help her get through the worst of her morning sickness. She knew that if she felt better physically, she would feel better emotionally, too. “I was so sick that I was willing to try anything," she says. "I'm very grateful for modern medicine and the ability to take a medication that helps me be able to function as a mama!”

Medicating Morning Sickness

Dr. Ros believes that medication can be an option for some patients. “Starting medication during pregnancy can be an anxiety-provoking situation for many pregnant people," she says. "However, there have been many, many advances in pharmacology in the last few decades, and there are medications that are perfectly safe to take. Women should balance their own concerns and fears about potential risks with the benefits, which would include going back to normal life activities."

A Word From Verywell

It's easy to be discouraged when you just don’t feel like yourself due to the effects of morning sickness on your emotional health. Remember that for the vast majority of pregnant women, these symptoms do get better over the course of the pregnancy. In the meantime, use the coping strategies mentioned and hang in there!

By Vicky Yip
Vicky is a freelance writer specializing on topics relating to prenatal care, motherhood, parenting, family, and home life. She is also a Senior Contributor for HoustonMoms (City Mom Collective).