Morning sickness & the work place. Ugh.
August 18, 2010 8:36 AM   Subscribe

How do expectant mothers make it through the work day while suffering from morning sickness?

At the ripe old age of 38, I find myself pregnant for the first time. I am about 6 weeks and haven't told anyone. The morning sickness is starting to hit this week...hard. Since I'm an older (advanced maternal age) pregnant lady, I know that the risks of miscarriage or complications is fairly high and want to delay sharing my news for awhile until I've had some tests and some time has passed. My body thinks otherwise, and would like to keep me nauseous and holed up in the office bathroom. I've been trying everything. Ginger ale. Saltine crackers. Vitamin B6. It just is not really working so well. It feels like I am at work with a really bad hangover. I've read that it might be like this for at least 6 more weeks, maybe more. I can't call in sick every day or curl up under my desk in a fetal position. How do other ladies in my position handle the sudden appearance of morning sickness/migraines/exhaustion at work? How do you deal with the smell of microwaved fish in the breakroom and strong perfume and all the other things that send your stomach lurching? How do you keep this a secret from the rest of the office?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
If you are that sick, call your doctor -- there are prescription meds that can help with the first trimester nausea. I really wish I had thought to do so, because I suffered through about 8 weeks of feeling hungover pretty much constantly and it was awful.

As for what I did -- I told my boss early, at about 7 weeks. He was really sympathetic and cut me a lot of slack. I also ended up making up a lot of work at night because I usually felt better after 5 p.m. or so. I ate constantly so I would never have an empty stomach, which usually made me feel worse. And I basically slept all weekend.

But really, call your doctor. If you can't function because of the nausea, that is a problem. Good luck!
posted by sutel at 8:41 AM on August 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Are you on prenatal vitamins with iron? My midwife thought the iron was making me feel unnecessarily bad, so she had me on a regular vitamin, a folic acid supplement, and iron-rich foods. The change really helped, in my case.
posted by xo at 8:42 AM on August 18, 2010

Ugh, i remember those days well. I had an over-reaction to the smell of dry erase markers and almost threw up in a meeting one day. (Later, after I told my colleagues I was pregnant, one brought in special low-odor dry erase markers and I wanted to kiss her!)

You're sorta stuck, but experiment with things that might work for you like always having your snacks on hand, even in a meeting...having a tissue or hankie that you can clutch to your mouth & nose -- pretend that you're coughing or about to sneeze, but instead you're trying to block odors.

The other thing is -- you can just tell them. I was pregnant at 35, so not quite as OLD as you. : ) I wanted to hold off from telling everyone till I got to 12 weeks, but at about 8 weeks my boss offered me a big promotion which was going to involve a lot of travel. I just sort of nodded and acted all excited, and went home and thought about it, and realized that if I had a miscarriage, they'd all hear about it anyway, so they might as well hear about my pregnancy.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:44 AM on August 18, 2010

Ginger Ale isn't nearly as good as candy with real ginger, like those Ginger Chews I always see in bulk at the health food store -- they really helped my nauseous sister. Constant snacking on mild foods helped, too. And, I think you just need to tell your direct supervisor/manager, and ask them to be discrete. I think having to feel like you need to hide your discomfort will only make you feel worse.
posted by chowflap at 8:59 AM on August 18, 2010

Congratulations on your pregnancy and I wish you the best.

I agree to call your physician about this. However, there is not really much that can be done. I know of women who needed to be admitted to the hospital for intractable vomiting and subsequent weight loss during the first trimester. What you're describing, honestly, sounds like a pretty average pregnancy. Of course, only your own physician can determine that, and it also depends on if you have anything else to throw into the mix (such as diabetes, hypothyroidism, etc).

What helped me:

1. When you wake up, do it slowly. Keep some saltine crackers by your bed and eat those upon waking. Nibble, tiny little bites. When you feel better, get out of bed.

2. Do not take a prenatal vitamin on an empty stomach... but do take one.

3. I found my magic drink that I could keep down most of the time was 1/2 ginger ale and 1/2 orange juice. Club soda also helped. I think it's the fizz.

4. I too told my co-workers very early into the pregnancy. I just felt like they would know sooner or later, and I am upfront with any other type of issue I have... however, I realize that not all workplaces are like that.

5. Some women crave pickles and ice cream... I craved sleep. I was so tired during the first trimester, so I allowed myself to rest whenever I could. I went home for lunch and napped, and then came home in the afternoon and went to bed very early. I needed it. Plus, if you're resting, most of the time you are not going to be nauseated.

Fortunately, morning sickness usually goes away, and in the second trimester, you feel awesome. I hope this is the case for you.
posted by FergieBelle at 9:06 AM on August 18, 2010

I told the people at my work as soon as I started getting sick (as soon as I got the pregnancy test confirmed). If they don't know then they don't know that bringing Chinese take-out to the office everyday is going to make you vomit all over their cubicle.

Yes, please call your doctor and get some medication for this. You do not need to suffer through it and be non-functional.

As for the exhaustion - my friend brought in a little bed roll, a pillow and blanket. She'd eat her lunch and then take a 45 minute nap under her desk. She may not have actually slept, but just going through the motions of sleep really helped.

But the best advice I can get is to get medication. I suffered through my first pregnancy and I shouldn't have.
posted by Sassyfras at 9:07 AM on August 18, 2010

Ack! For me, once the morning sickness hit, I wished I was back at the "no appetite" stage. And nothing I did worked for more than a couple of minutes to keep the nausea at bay. As I could keep food down I didn't "qualify" for anti-nausea medication.

So how did I make it through the work day? I told my boss early (I reasoned that since I was classified as advanced maternal age at 35 and my boss was a certified EMT, then it made sense for him to be aware of what was happening). I ate ginger cookies, peach gummy penguins and whatever else was appealing at that moment and drank lots and lots of liquids - teas, water and milk. And I slept as much as possible when I was not at work.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 9:10 AM on August 18, 2010

I had two pregnancies in which I had "morning" sickness all day every day pretty much until the baby was born. Based on my experience:

1. It is really hard to get your doctor to do anything before 12 weeks, because they think it's normal until then. Unless you have true hyperemesis, in my experience with two different ob's, no matter how many times I called the doctor's office, I was told to have some tea and saltines and that it would pass in a few weeks. Neither was willing to put me on medication until the second trimester, and even then I had to push with one of the doctors. When I said I was not able to function, I was told that I was trying to do too much and should lower my expectations. YMMV, of course, and I definitely agree that you should call, call again, and keep calling, if you're really not able to function. In my case, even being really pushy didn't get me meds until I was past 12 weeks and the nausea and vomiting were still happening.

2. Telling people can really help. During my first (worse) pregnancy, I had to be eating small amounts constantly, and usually carried a plastic bag with me in case of emergency. I sometimes excused myself to throw up and people knew what I was going to do. When people know, they'll be sympathetic and helpful and understanding of any oddities in your behavior (like sitting there slowly spooning tiny amounts of applesauce into your mouth during the entirety of a 2-hour meeting), and they might even be willing to stop microwaving fish in the breakroom.

My heart goes out to you. I was not working full-time during my pregnancies and even so it was very hard.
posted by not that girl at 9:27 AM on August 18, 2010

FWIW, ginger ale and saltines and B6 did absolutely NOTHING for my morning sickness (indeed, I kept trying them anyway, because everyone kept recommending them, and after a while they just made me feel worse, I think because I began associating ginger ale and saltines with feeling sick).

The only things that helped were eating constantly and making sure I was eating things with some protein in them. Turkey and peanut butter and dairy products worked well for me. Eggs helped too, when I ate them, but they turned me off (pretty much everything made me go "eww") so I didn't eat them very often. I've heard others say eggs made things worse, though.

Sweet foods were more pleasant coming back up so if things were really bad, I stuck to smoothies or sweet yogurt. Though in general I did not crave sugar during the first trimester so this was really a I-know-I'll-throw-this-up-anyway measure.

Also, I just somehow got lucky and managed to only throw up when there was no one else in our staff bathroom. But I did tell my supervisor and the one person I worked most closely with very early, so at least they would know what was going on. But no one else found out until after I was past the first trimester.

You need to just keep trying different foods to find what works for you. Every pregnancy is different.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 9:30 AM on August 18, 2010

There's a lot of indivuidual variation in women. My mother was so morning sick that attending classes was a non-starter. Other women are fine. Everyone has their own folk remedy, but whatever you do make sure you stay properly hydrated.
posted by Phalene at 9:45 AM on August 18, 2010

Would those wristbands that are used for motion sickness help? The ones I have say that they're safe for pregnant women.

Nthing the ginger candies suggestion. The ginger chews are good, as are the little tins of chewable ginger lozenges that you find by the cash registers at Whole Foods.
posted by corey flood at 10:03 AM on August 18, 2010

You've been given some really good answers, so I'll just add two things that helped me through my two hyperemetic pregnancies.

I carried with me a cut lemon in a plastic baggie when I knew I was going to be somewhere with strong odors (like the grocery store). I got over the slight embarrassment of sniffing a cut lemon in a plastic baggie by knowing I wasn't going to throw up when I smelled the deli counter. Maybe you could keep one at your desk in case of microwave odors coming from the break room.

The other thing that helped was brushing my teeth if I started feeling woozy. Just a quick brush with a minty toothpaste would keep the nausea at bay for a bit, sometimes.

Good luck!
posted by cooker girl at 10:06 AM on August 18, 2010

Oh, I should say, I tried ginger everything: ginger chews, candied ginger, ginger tea made from boiling pure raw ginger, I got the giner ale with the real ginger in it (which Canada Dry et al don't have). Ginger totally did not work for me. But other things did. Eat whatever sounds good to you. Try making sure you have some protein.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:06 AM on August 18, 2010

Re the lemon sniffing: I've also seen someone recommend carrying a bar of peppermint soap to sniff, so that's something else to try. And tooth-brushing could help or could make things worse, I've heard of women with both experiences. Seriously, just keep experimenting.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:08 AM on August 18, 2010

Eating small amounts of high-protein food helped me a lot. I was pretty keen on trail mix during the worst of my sickness.

I worked for a woman who insisted I care for her pets while she was gone (the office was in her home), and ended up cleaning up dog puke and feeding wet food to her aging cat, who lived in a closet with a litter box--it was rough, rough going.
posted by padraigin at 10:17 AM on August 18, 2010

Another alternative to carrying lemon-- carry a strong-smelling sachet of coffee beans (or ground coffee) with you. If you like the smell of coffee, of course-- if it makes you sick then obviously don't try this.

I was stuck on an international flight behind someone who threw up on our shared airplane WALL, so the smell of puke was there through the whole flight. The stewardess gave me one of their industrial coffee sachets for the airplane's coffee maker, and it erased all other smells. It was a lifesaver.
posted by np312 at 10:23 AM on August 18, 2010


Tell your boss, first of all. Say it exactly like you've said it here: "I'm pregnant, it's very early, miscarriage risk is still very high so I'd prefer it not go out to the office. However, I am SLAIN by this nausea. I want you to know that I'm doing everything I can to overcome it and get through this difficult time, but if you notice me suddenly bolting out of meetings or eating things with tiny spoons or whatever, that is why."

I had some moderately good luck with a product called Morning Sickness Magic, which is basically ginger and B6 and some other stuff in a capsule. Taking that twice a day allowed me to keep enough food down to mitigate the nausea. I also found that eating high-protein foods was much better than eating simple carbs, but other women find the opposite.

If something sounds good, eat it. I don't care if it's liver and onions or a Big Mac or 87 bananas in a row; eat anything you can eat. My previous pregnancy, I could eat no meat and nothing sweet at all for the first 16 weeks. This pregnancy, the more raw beef I ate (after clearing it with my midwife) the better I felt, and if I ate a glazed donut right before bed, it substantially reduced my morning nausea. You gotta just experiment.
posted by KathrynT at 10:32 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yup, I feel you. I had awful, constant "morning" (read: all day) nausea for months. Sucking on ice cubes was helpful for some reason. I also found that frequent snacking (bagels, crackers, cheese slices) helped, as did ginger ale and ginger tea. I basically had to eat something every hour or so, even though almost nothing was appealing. Pickles and tart juices helped when the nausea came back towards the end of the pregnancy. If you find something that works, just eat it--it's hard when you want to be eating healthy for the baby and everything makes you sick, but that's the nature of the beast.

One thing that helped was letting myself dry heave. If I retched a couple of times in a row I would feel better afterwards. I only vomited maybe five times throughout the pregnancy, but there were days when I would just dry heave all day long.

Unisom (the tablet form, not gel cap) helped in the evenings but it will knock you out since it is a sleeping pill. B6 did nothing for me. But these and other meds are very safe and worth looking into. Good luck! It will get better eventually.
posted by tetralix at 10:36 AM on August 18, 2010

You need to get a prescription for ZOFRAN. IMMEDIATELY! That is the only thing that worked for me, period. I was 36 at my first pregnancy.
posted by wwartorff at 10:40 AM on August 18, 2010

I had all-day nausea into my 7th month, and I was lecturing 7 classes a day for the first four months. I sucked non-stop on Lemon Heads. Breakfast before I got out of bed (toast with swiss cheese for me, stayed down pretty well) helped. Ginger ale was okay, Peppermints were okay, but lemon was better. Water with a squeeze of ReaLemon for hydration, then Lemon Heads ALL. DAY. LONG. I think my students thought I had a super-weird fetish.

I was told lemon, peppermint, and ginger were the three flavors that helped people the most, but nobody thought to suggest lemon candy to me, just peppermint and ginger candy, so I suggest lemon candy to you, in case it helps. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:48 AM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've never been pregnant but had a friend who swore by those anti-nausea wrist bands for her morning sickness. My mom also used them for sea-sickness with good results. They're only about $10 so it might be worth a try.
posted by thejanna at 10:58 AM on August 18, 2010

a friend of mine who suffered from horrible morning sickness every day, the entire day until her 8th month seemed to get some relief from ginger-flavored lollipops. the the ginger helped, but even better was the fact that she could keep one in her mouth all day, smelling and tasting it and distracting herself by sucking on the candy. might be worth a try.

also, congratulations!
posted by buka at 11:00 AM on August 18, 2010

Definitely talk to your doctor. Mine also gave me a nausea prescription with my last pregnancy. It made things a lot easier.

Preggie Pops helped me a lot too. They have them in drops so you don't have to have a sucker stick hanging out of your mouth.

I'd also stuff lemon wedges in my water bottle. Lemonade was too sweet and plain water would make the nausea worse, but 3-5 wedges in my 20oz. water bottle was just about perfect.

Peppermint tea helped me too, both hot and iced.
posted by TooFewShoes at 11:18 AM on August 18, 2010

congrats! Carry a lemon to sniff, just scratch it with your fingernail first. A piece of peeled fresh ginger is nice to chew on.

but mainly, Zofran. I threw up all 9 months of my 3 pregnancies (with a bonus 3-month pregnancy and miscarriage in between). First pregnancy I was all natural and no meds. 2nd and 3rd were so horrible I broke down and used Zofran. By the 4th pregnancy, I took it from the beginning.

It saved my sanity.
posted by mdiskin at 11:21 AM on August 18, 2010

Oh, God, me too - right now. I'm 37.

My first pregnancy, lemonade and lemon candies saved me. This time, no. None of the folk remedies are helping me, so I got a prescription for Zofran. I think you have to be actually vomiting regularly to finagle the Rx, which it sounds like you are. Warning though: possible constipation.

After a week or so, the Zofran stopped working for me, but I'm the only person I know to whom that happened. It's worth trying because it doesn't cause the overpowering sleepiness that antihistamine-based antinausea drugs do.

Also, eat any time you can, to keep your blood sugar on an even keel and to keep the stomach acid down. I'm sure there are plenty of times that you can't stand to eat a thing - you gag on anything - so all the more reason to eat constantly during the times you can.

My sense of smell is acting overtime, and I'm breathing through my mouth a lot.

Most people are less observant of others' activities than we would suppose. I've been feeling very self-conscious and obvious about my change in diet and activity level at work, but no one has said a thing or even looked at me oddly.

The hCG levels that are thought to cause a lot of the nausea peak in weeks 8-10. By week 12 or so, the hCG levels are getting low enough that most women are either fine, or at least having a lot more "good" days.

Best wishes to you! I know these next few weeks will seem really long, but they will pass eventually. Then you can move on to fun stuff like heartburn. (Teasing - you'll mostly likely feel better in your second trimester.)
posted by Knowyournuts at 11:48 AM on August 18, 2010

You could tell people you think you have some sort of stomach bug or inner ear thing that's making your stomach queasy. That way they'll be sympathetic to your behaviour but they won't all know you're pregs. Some people will probably still guess, though- and if anyone asks you outright, maybe be coy with them, like a little smile with "Pregnant? Me? I never said I was pregnant," so they know it's a secret, feel "in on it" and are therefore disinclined to gossip too much. Congratulations, btw!
posted by pseudostrabismus at 11:55 AM on August 18, 2010

I'm right there with you, 38 and 8 or so weeks (i think) along. I'm finding the best thing for me is to eat as soon as I feel the slightest bit hungry, if I get caught up in my work and let it slide then I'm miserable. I try to think before I'm hungry about what sounds good, and I eat that, even if it's not in my regular diet, these days this low carb gal is consuming a lot of bagels and mac&cheese. Ginger tea is helping too, as are cinnamon candies. And "morning" sickness is such a misnomer.

Congrats and hang in there!
posted by snowymorninblues at 12:49 PM on August 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

just to give you a bit of hope: I only had terrible morning sickness for about two weeks, from about week 7 to week 9. After that I felt only slightly crummy, and could manage it with frequent eating. So don't despair--you aren't necessarily going to feel awful for weeks and weeks. and, congrats!
posted by Ollie at 4:52 PM on August 18, 2010

I don't know if you've tried this, but eating a little before I even got out of bed (kept some crackers by the nightstand) helped my morning queasiness a lot. Congratulations!
posted by Wuggie Norple at 1:17 AM on August 19, 2010

Congrats and big hugs to you -- I am approaching 16 weeks, and have had all-day morning sickness since week 6. My morning sickness is finally beginning to subside (just in the last few days), but my migraines are getting worse. FUN.

I will echo a few things from upthread:

1. Telling your boss early is a good idea. I told my boss at 7 weeks because I was perpetually ill -- he was very understanding/sympathetic. I waited to tell the rest of my co-workers til 11 weeks (would've waited later, but several of them figured it out on their own, and the gossip mill was a-churnin'). I would not have wanted one of those co-workers to figure it out and mention it to my boss before I had a chance to tell him.

2. As you can probably tell from the other responses, everyone responds to different remedies -- for me, saltines did NOTHING, ginger ale was marginally helpful (but so were other fizzy drinks), sea bands and acupuncture seemed to help somewhat, and lemon drop candy was a GODSEND. But it's really trial-and-error, and what works (or what sets you off) might change from day-to-day. That, in fact, was the most frustrating thing for me -- that I couldn't pin anything down.

3. Allow yourself to sleep whenever you can. If this means going out to your car on your lunch break, do it. If this means that you get home from work and go directly to bed and sleep until your alarm goes off the next morning, DO EET. You'll get some stamina back eventually, but the only thing worse than dealing with nausea/migraines/etc. is being violently exhausted on top of it. My willingness to hibernate (which luckily squelched my "Onward! Just because I'm preggers shouldn't mean I have no life!" impulse) made the difference in being able to go to work and not.

4. Lots of well-meaning people, books, and TEH INTARWEBS will tell you that all of this will disappear in the second trimester, and you will emerge into a land of unicorns, rainbows, and increased energy/appetite. So there I was in week 13 (and 14, and most of 15), frustrated and wondering why I still felt like utter crap. I hope that you get unicorns and rainbows at 13w0d (and you might), but it might also take longer than that and that's ok. My improvement has been extremely gradual, lots of ups and downs over the past couple of weeks, but finally starting to feel (except for the migraines) like I'm having more good days than bad.

One more note on the migraines -- make sure you ask your doctor if there's anything stronger than Tylenol that you can take. The books all say OMGTYLENOLONLY!!, but my doc was ok with me taking Excedrin Migraine, at least for now. It is very worth it to ask.

Best of luck, and hang in there.
posted by somanyamys at 8:27 AM on August 19, 2010

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