Before I got pregnant, I had visions of happily chowing down on sardines and kimchi and kale salads throughout my pregnancy, feeding my baby-to-be all the healthy foods I love to eat and hopefully setting him up for a lifetime of loving a huge range of flavors.
Then I hit the sixth week of pregnancy. And suddenly even thinking about food made me really sick. So what's a food lover to do when the one thing that used to bring you joy on a daily basis is suddenly the cause of pain? I don't think there is one foolproof way to make it through the nausea that often accompanies pregnancy, but here's how I survived two months of intense and unrelenting morning sickness with my love of good food — and my sanity —intact.
Accept that the first couple weeks will be the worst.
It's inevitable. Figuring out what makes you feel nauseous, what you can tolerate, and what makes you really sick is a process, and not a very fun one. Eventually you will find some sort of groove, but it is going to take a little trial and error. The upside: things typically only get better from here.
Eat small amounts of food frequently.
During the first trimester of pregnancy, your body starts pumping out hormones which slow down the muscles of your digestive system, bringing your digestion to what feels like a screeching halt. Eating a big meal, or even the normal-sized portions that you are used to, will probably be too much for your sluggish system. At the same time, you will probably find that an empty stomach is a recipe for nausea, so the best way to avoid both nausea and indigestion is to eat small amounts of food every hour or two, or as frequently as needed.
Small snacks that worked for me:
- 4 to 5 crackers and two small squares of cheddar cheese
- Half an apple, sliced, spread with a couple teaspoons of almond butter
- 1 orange
- Small bowl of pureed vegetable soup
- 3 prunes or dried apricots
- 1 to 2 tablespoons hummus with celery or cucumbers
- 1/2 cup of breakfast cereal with milk
Goodbye, raw carrots.
Stay away from difficult to digest foods.
Fat and fiber slow down digestion and keep you feeling fuller longer — usually a good thing, but not when things are already moving so slowly. My diet normally consists of a lot of legumes, whole grains, whole nuts and raw vegetables, which were all way too much for my delicate digestive system to handle. Processing these foods by cooking them and/or pureeing them made them much easier to take; for example, I couldn't handle whole chickpeas, but hummus was tolerable.
And no matter how good those French fries smell, deep-fried foods will most likely leave you feeling very ill. Even non-fried foods prepared with a lot of oil can be troublesome, which I discovered after a slightly oily Thai takeout meal.
Difficult to digest foods I avoided:
- Legumes (except pureed in hummus and other dips)
- Whole grains
- Whole nuts (but nut butters were fine)
- Raw, fibrous vegetables (carrots, kale, broccoli, etc.)
- Fried foods or foods prepared with a lot of oil
Easily digestible, lightly seasoned foods are your friends.
When you hear easily digestible, you might be thinking about soda crackers, white rice and pasta, but we food lovers know you can't live on white foods alone. I found myself feeling bloated and depressed after the first couple weeks of surviving on white pasta and saltine crackers. I needed vegetables! And although too much fiber can spell trouble, you do need some fiber to keep things moving and avoid the other common consequence of pregnancy: constipation. (Especially if you are on Zofran, an anti-nausea medication with the unfortunate side effect of serious constipation.)
Fruits, watery vegetables and dried fruit have good amounts of fiber, but are easier to digest. Cooking hard vegetables until they are very soft helps make them tolerable, and pureeing them into soups is even better.
When it came to proteins, I found simple and lightly seasoned to be the best choice for me: roasted meats seasoned with salt and pepper, baked tofu, and hard-boiled or scrambled eggs (when I could stand the smell of eggs).
Easy to digest foods that worked for me:
- Fruits (especially soft fruits like oranges and grapes)
- Watery vegetables (cucumbers, celery, lettuce)
- Well-cooked vegetables
- Pureed vegetable soups
- Small amounts of dried fruits
- Meat, lightly seasoned and roasted or baked
- Baked tofu
- Eggs, hard-boiled or scrambled
A typical dinner during my morning sickness. I snapped this photo with my phone because the meal looked so sad and pathetic.
Ask your friends about what helped them survive morning sickness.
Everyone's food preferences are different, especially during the delicate time that is early pregnancy. (For example, I had an intense craving for oranges that was triggered by watching a character on a TV show eat an orange sometime during the first week of feeling sick. It lasted for months.) Talking to friends about what they ate while suffering through morning sickness will give you a wide range of food ideas, not all of which will be appealing, but when you are in the throes of all-day nausea, even one idea that sparks your appetite is worth it.
Avoid food blogs, Pinterest and Instagram.
I quickly realized that even beautiful photos of food turned my stomach, so I took a two-month hiatus from visiting Pinterest, Instagram and most food blogs. (Not easy when you work for a food blog, believe me!) I also found that looking at computer screens and even the screen of my Kindle left me feeling a little nauseous, so I spent a couple months rediscovering the joys of paper books — confession: I reread the entire Harry Potter series — and design blogs.
But I missed being a part of the social media food world, especially on Instagram. I was too sick to be physically present for the parties and events my friends were attending, and I couldn't even take part virtually, which made me feel even more isolated. But that brings me to the next point...
Try not to feel guilty.
There is a lot to feel guilty about when you are a self-confessed food lover who can't even think about food. When I was suffering through morning sickness, here are the various guilty thoughts that went through my mind: I'm not cooking. I'm spending too much money on takeout food. I'm eating dinner and it's still the afternoon. I just ate a Subway sandwich for the first time in years and it tasted really good.
...Just let it go. You are being put to the test, both physically and mentally, but it's only temporary, so whatever you can do to get yourself through it — and isn't going to harm the fetus, of course — is fair game. You aren't going to be living off of 4pm dinners and emergency Veggie Delite sandwiches forever.
Take care of yourself.
Get lots of rest, drink lots of fluids and don't be afraid to ask for help. I gave up cooking entirely for about five weeks, the longest I had ever been away from the kitchen since I started cooking. I spent whatever time I wasn't working or in class parked in a corner of the couch in my pajamas, watching TV or reading. I put my husband in charge of all household cleaning and chores. It's what I needed to feel better — which I did, miraculously, starting around the beginning of my second trimester.
Now I'm cooking and eating pretty much normally — including sardines, kale salads and kimchi! — and my two months of morning sickness are a distant, if painful, memory. Remember: it will end at some point and you can go back to being the cooking, eating, food-blog-reading person you've always been. And you'll never take your digestive system for granted again!