Quick disclaimer: I rarely had more than little waves of nausea while pregnant. Before you hate me, I want to tell you that my observation, backed up by multiple studies at the National Institutes of Health (or, maybe not), is that those with easy pregnancies often have difficult deliveries, and vice versa. Does that make you feel better? I’ll wait while you run to the bathroom… poor you.
But I have some strategies for you to cope with morning sickness, and some tips. With my admittedly scant experience and surveys of truly morning sick friends, this post will help.
The main issue is how to feel a little better — but also, how to feed everyone when you feel lousy.
The solution to this two-horned problem: Plain Cooking.
As I see it, we have these levels of morning sickness [quietly revising my numbers since I got them backwards the first time, in my usual scatterbrain way]:
Defcon 5: You are still on Pinterest and can manage to layer dips, garnish salads with edible flowers harvested from your garden, and handle recipes embedded in other recipes. You can stomach the sight of raw chicken. You are not particularly too tired to have a garden. Good for you! We’ll be over for supper.
Defcon 4: You walk rather fast past the chicken case at the grocery store. A dish of squid you mistakenly ate in week 9 has put you off squid forever. Never again will you eat squid. You can barely type the word. Your family wonders why chicken has disappeared from the menu, although some of them aren’t sad about this (and they are four). Ways to make ground beef are paling, but you’re sticking with it. As long as the 5-year-old keeps you supplied with Nerds, you are going to make it. By week 20 you are feeling okay as long as you have one nap a day. (This may or may not have been me. At my worst. I said I was sorry.) You’re doing fine, really.
Defcon 3: Dragging from sofa to bed, bed to sofa, barfing along the way. Wishing you had the energy to strangle the next person to tell you to drink ginger ale. Here is where perhaps we can be of help.
First let’s look at how to feed your family in this case.
I think rules are in order, don’t you? Thinking/understanding is so hard when you are morning sick. Three warm-up rules and then on to Plain Cooking.
Rule 1: Get the medical part of it squared away. Have your blood tested for iron. Your prenatal pill’s iron is probably not enough. Take your Floridix (or these easily swallowed, reasonably sized pills if you don’t think you can handle swallowing the liquid). Iron can worsen nausea but so can feeling extremely draggy. Just try to take it later in the day when you’ve eaten something (non-dairy).
If you can eat red meat or liver, do. Try my liver paté — maybe someone can make it for you — if you can handle it, and you might find that you actually crave it if you are iron deficient. Liver + prunes = iron and a little help with consequent digestive issues. There are combinations of vitamins that can help you — ask your midwife. But above all, don’t get anemic on top of everything else.
There are safe medications for morning sickness. Many ladies swear by the Vitamin B6 plus Unisom combination. You need to bring it up with the doctor — we’ve heard too many stories of ladies needing IV fluids more than once — yet the doctor still doesn’t bring up medical relief. Getting that dehydrated is far worse for baby than taking the (safe!) medication!
Rule 2: Rest. You are making a baby. That’s pretty important and amazing. If this is not your first child, you are making a sibling for your other child(ren) — the best gift you will ever give them, besides your marriage. You don’t have to do anything else for them in the way of activities, entertainment, etc., and not only will your kids survive, they will thrive, because they will do all the things. You will see. When you can’t, they will.
Sometimes I think this is obvious, to rest — but then I see ladies running around and realize that unless you have my voice in your head, you might not know that you can just go lie down. (But if you literally can’t move, you might be anemic — see #1.)
Remember, you might not look all that pregnant, and thus you might feel like a real scrub for feeling bad, but all the hard work of making fingers and toes is taking place right now! No wonder you can’t cope!
If “the others” are only 18 months old, then yes, it’s tricky to have to check out, but you’d be surprised how little an 18-month-old needs. If you are skeptical, remember this anecdote a friend once told me when I was lamenting a bout of sickness where I felt incapacitated. She said, “Once I was so sick and no one was there to help me. I basically lay on the sofa and held out a banana. The [little] kids ran around in circles in the living room, stopping as they passed for a bite.” I don’t know how much lower the bar can be, so just think of that and congratulate yourself for holding it together.
Get a fence and let the kids run around outside. When people ask what you need, tell them you need a fence.
Rule 3: When you can do something, try to do it fast. It’s better to do something really quickly and then go back to the sofa than to move slowly for a long period of time. Train yourself to think beforehand what the fastest way to do any particular thing might be, and then do it that way. A sweet, severely morning sick reader to whom I wrote this thought commented:
Thank you so much for that advice. It was actually more helpful than you may realize because I can be a sort of “slow to get moving” type of girl. The reminder to work quickly when able is most applicable.
Rule 4: Familiarize yourself with Plain Cooking. When you are able, just cook the food. Do not Pinterest it, do not Julia-Child it.
Everything is fine with butter and salt.
Cooked meat lasts a couple of days in the fridge and cooked vegetables last for longer than that.
Boil or bake potatoes. Heck, microwave them. I laughed when I saw a New York Times article about “the right way to bake a potato.” There is literally nothing easier than baking a potato. Put butter and salt on it when it’s done. You’re good.
Yes, there are entire cookbooks for how make chicken breasts interesting. But you can also get a pan, melt butter in it, throw the breasts in, cook them. Salt. Eat.
Roast a whole chicken. Just salt it and put it in the oven. Roast it for 15 minutes per pound. Take it out. Hack pieces off of it. Put it in the fridge. Take it out. Hack more pieces off of it. Repeat until nothing is left.
Put chuck roasts and pork shoulders in the slow cooker (I mean, not together) with some tomato paste and dried onion and salt. You don’t need to add water to the pork. You can add a cup or two of water, wine, or broth to the beef. Cook until the meat is tender, 6 or so hours. If it’s not tender, cook it some more. If you can’t open a can of tomato paste, that’s fine. It will be fine.
Get pork chops. Melt butter in a pan. Brown chops on one side. Turn over. Salt. Cover and cook on low heat for 8 minutes (depending on thickness). Eat.
Sometimes you need to know that you can open a jar of sauce: Boil pasta. Brown beef (add salt). Open jar of tomato sauce (store brand is fine). Pour over beef. Pour over pasta. Serve with parmesan cheese or even grated cheddar cheese.
Brown ground beef. Add dried minced onion and salt. Serve over potatoes. Put a dollop of sour cream on top if you want to be fancy.
Or put it in a tortilla. Anyone who can open the fridge can get some things to add to that.
Truly, a child can do any of these things. You only have to tell them about washing their hands and the counters with soap. If your child is too young, even your hard-working husband can take 10 minutes and do them. If necessary, you can give directions from the sofa.
Just think “meat, starch, vegetable, bread.” If all else fails, bread and cheese.
To get slightly more complicated in case the fog clears or someone is there to help:
You can serve BBQ sandwiches with the cooked meat. Leftover braised (as above, in the slow cooker) meat, BBQ sauce, rolls. Ground beef, BBQ sauce, potatoes. I think that Stubb’s BBQ sauce is made with sugar, not high fructose corn syrup. Always have some of that handy, along with bulky rolls in the freezer.
Make a pot of rice and put your cooked meat and vegetables on top and tell a child to get the soy sauce.
Get a ham (have your husband pick it up for you — one with a bone, pre-sliced or not), bake it by throwing it in a pan with sides and the oven on 325º. In the same oven, put sweet potatoes on a baking tray covered with foil. (Do not omit the foil, because we don’t want you scrubbing pans.)
Take the ham out, turn the oven up to 425º, continue to cook the sweet potatoes until they are oozing sugar. Boil some green beans.
(The picture is of the cold sweet potatoes. When they were cooking, they were spread out — on the foil — on a larger pan. Note how I stored them.)
Open the sweet potatoes and serve with butter and salt. Once you taste roasted sweet potatoes, you will love them. I literally made it through childhood without eating one green item, thanks to sweet potatoes.
Another day, have ham sandwiches — just bread, butter, and ham, fruit or pickles and chips on the side.
Another day, soup with the bone — pea soup couldn’t be easier. Throw the peas with the bone into the slow cooker, add dried minced onion, two quarts of water. Salt at the end.
Another day, cook up some pasta and put the ham and green beans in the cooked pasta with butter and cheese.
Mustard (just plain powdered mustard seed) and garlic powder make any meat taste fine if someone wants to add them to the pot.
If the defcon level can be downgraded:
Put that chicken carcass that’s been picked clean in a pot. Throw your dried onion flakes in. Boil. Strain. Cook noodles in it, maybe a chopped up carrot (do the carrot pieces first). (When you get your onion flakes, also get a big container of dried parsley — shake some parsley in.) There you go. Lots of bread and butter.
Caesar salad: send someone out for a big package of Romaine lettuce, parmesan cheese, anchovies (really — you might find you crave this), and Italian bread. They could break Auntie Leila’s rule this once and buy Caesar salad dressing, although it’s just oil, vinegar, mustard, salt, and garlic (we’ll leave the egg yolk out of it for now). Put the leftover chicken next to this salad and you’re good to go.
The main thing– use your limited cooking time well. If you can do it, cook as big a roast or as many chicken parts as you can manage so that you can put some in the freezer. (Have plenty of ziploc freezer bags on hand to make this as easy as possible.)
Make a big pot of pasta, toss with olive oil. You can have many meals that are pasta, cheese, some pieces of meat, some vegetables. All of that has been in your fridge — just microwave. The same can be done with potatoes or rice.
Don’t worry, you will get through this. Some day you will cook with recipes again. For now, just aim to have some cooked food on the table.
Some tips for actually quelling the nausea — and I realize that so far I’ve suggested liver and anchovies, but seriously, this could help:
You eat whatever you can eat. If that means pastries or ice cream or cheeseburgers or salted nuts, that’s what you should eat. You need calories.
Do try to make it something with protein if you can. Yes, salty crackers can help, but you need to quickly follow up (or go straight to) cheese, yogurt, pieces of cooked meat, nuts. You might be able to eat a sharp, salty cheese like feta.
Your aim is to keep the blood sugar levels even, so eat — and drink — at frequent intervals.
Don’t try to choke something down. We women have been conditioned to cling to the notion of salad as our one healthy option, but salad might not be for you right now. Suki’s husband would leave half a peanut butter sandwich by her bedside. She would have a little milkshake (made by that excellent husband) right before supper so that she could eat supper — because getting too hungry spirals quickly. And eating cold things can help, so obviously ice cream is ideal.
Try not to smell the things. This makes the crockpot a bit more tricky, I realize. I haven’t actually put my new Instant Pot to the test (it’s on sale today, by the way!), but I think it would be better on that account.
On the other hand, Deirdre suggests sniffing a cut lemon — it helped her. I found that sniffing a tea bag helped me.
Sometimes you can eat if someone just puts it in front of you. Don’t say you can’t eat it until you really know for sure. Thinking about it might be worse than eating it. The time I was sickest, I couldn’t stand to hear the words ham, broccoli, or cheese sauce, but when handed a plate of just that, I could eat it.
Whatever is the thing you can most see yourself eating, just serve that as simply as possible.
Magnesium and Vitamin D really help with feeling better, and magnesium is best absorbed through the skin. So a foot bath or actual bath with Epsom salts is soothing and actually delivers the magnesium — far better than in pill form. You can get a big bag at the drugstore.
Taking cod liver oil can help with the vitamin D. Yes, this is a two-edged sword for sure, and there are capsules. The issue is… burping. Deirdre suggests taking it before bed so you are asleep when you burp!
Something odd that might just work to quell the queasiness:
A few years back I read a post (sorry, the link is long gone from memory!) by a mom of many kids who got very sick every time — she said that the only thing she could eat was cooked beans. She would just make a pot of beans every few days and eat that. If you want to try it, white navy beans are very bland when cooked up (they don’t smell too great when they are cooking, I’ll grant you, but they are very mild once cooked). Try eating them with bread or rice for complete protein, and do add oil or butter, and salt.
Try cooking up a pot of red lentils (use twice as much water after rinsing them) with dried minced onion and salt. It’s very tasty and doesn’t take long.
I have no experience with this bean thing as a remedy for morning sickness — just passing it along.
Sometimes nausea is actually from acid reflux, so try to get that under control. Relieve constipation (the sweet potatoes really help with that, as does flax, and dates, which you should be eating anyway for your labor). Tums, Zantac. It can also be due to low acid, so taking an apple cider vinegar drink or lemonade can help.
There’s still Defcon 2… Walking around with a little suitcase containing IV fluids. Aw. This is so hard. Please rest and be cared for. We don’t know what to say, other than maybe look at the tips above and see if you can manage them or pass them to your husband; and Defcon 1… Hospitalization: Auntie Leila is so sorry and has even less to tell you, other than to direct your husband to this post, which will also help anyone who isn’t able to be very handy around the kitchen, even if not actually carrying the baby around inside their actual bodies.
(Hence, the “more” of the title. It’s just good to remember, for lots of dire circumstances, that you — or someone else — can keep it simple.)
Hyperemesis gravidarum is so serious, and we are on your side.
Some possibly consoling thoughts:
A friend who does get morning sick told me recently about a real upside to her most recent pregnancy, and this relates to meal planning directly. She decided she just had to keep it very simple and not cater to her other children’s pickiness (they were all under six at the time) — because she just could not. She got what she could on the table and that was that, and it was usually the same thing many days in a row.
And you know what? They became very hearty eaters!
If none of this helps, let it go, just let it slide. What helps one gal might not help you, and vice versa. It’s okay.
Please join or form a St. Greg’s Pocket as soon as you can. We all need a community to help us through these times. We can’t do it on our own. When you’ve been through it, you know what to do — which is more than I can say for most people. Be there to help others and they will help you.
In any case, everyone has their fight to fight, and I want you to know that we all have those times that things fall apart. You do your best and you know that God sees you and loves you.
Sometimes I think that we have these times in our lives so that we learn humility and that we aren’t meant to be “perfect” — how else will we ever empathize with anyone?
I do have these posts:
They might help with just figuring out how to muddle through and make best use of whatever good moments you have. Short version: work fast when you can, do the minimum! and find good videos (lots of ideas in that survival post) and books for the kids.
Remember that offering up your suffering is the way God asks us to be united with Him. It isn’t wasted — you will never know until you get to Heaven how your lonely, silent suffering helps others. But it does.
What ways have you found for coping with morning sickness, especially with other family members to take care of?