“Morning sickness” is a misnomer, as it can afflict at any time of day. This less-than-fun side effect of pregnancy is extremely common and varies in severity from occasional mild nausea to seemingly incessant vomiting.
Every pregnancy is different.
Though in any case it’s an unpleasant experience, there is a bright side: children of mothers who experience noticeable morning sickness tend to have higher Intelligence Quotients (IQ) than those of mothers who are free from symptoms.
That may sound weird, so let’s explore why this may be.
What is morning sickness?
The medical term for morning sickness is emesis or nausea gravidarum. It is one of the first signs of pregnancy and usually begins at about six weeks’ gestation.
Feelings of nausea usually subside at around twelve weeks (at the end of the first trimester) though they can start earlier and continue for several weeks longer.
Morning sickness occurs as the result of changes in hormones that accompany growing a new human. Additionally, there is evidence that food aversions and vomiting serve to protect the developing embryo from potential pathogens. Hence many pregnant women’s sensitivity to strong flavors and smells, particularly eggs, meat, and fish, which are susceptible to bacterial infection. (1)
Baby health correlates to the mother’s morning sickness in several ways.
Sickness of any kind has a reason. It’s then no surprise that there’s been considerable research into why women experience morning sickness during pregnancy. That pukey feeling has been linked to:
- lower risk of premature birth (2)
- lower incidence of miscarriage (3)
- lower risk of congenital malformations (“birth defects”)
- healthy overall physical development of the baby (4)
- favorable delivery and birth outcomes (5)
In addition to these, a Canadian study of one hundred twenty-one pregnant women found that the children of those who experienced morning sickness (nausea with or without vomiting) demonstrated higher IQ at three to seven years of age than children of mothers with no pregnancy sickness.
The children in the study were administered comprehensive psychological tests; researchers attributed the results to mothers’ IQ and sickness severity during pregnancy. (6) So the sicker you are, the smarter your baby may be.
Why this is so may be related to hormone secretion. If you’re nauseous or regularly vomiting, your caloric intake is limited, reducing the amount of insulin your pancreas secretes.
Reduced insulin levels stimulate the production of other hormones known to promote placental health and increased blood flow to the fetus’ rapidly-developing central nervous system (including the brain).
Morning sickness isn’t always good for mother and baby.
Sickness during pregnancy can become a serious health concern for both mother and baby if it results in an inability to keep anything down, including water.
In these extreme cases—a rare condition called hyperemesis gravidarum—the mother can experience dehydration and malnutrition.
While a developing baby will extract from her/his mother what is needed for development, there is an increased risk for miscarriage, pre-term birth, and low birth weight, which come with their own sets of problems. The risk to the mother can be significant if the condition persists without treatment. Often intravenous hydration will mitigate the most dangerous risks.
The causes of hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) are not definitively known, however, genetics may be a factor in development of the condition.
If certain genes are turned on during pregnancy, they can stimulate an over-production of blood-borne proteins IGPBP7 (insulin-like growth protein-binding protein 7) and/or GDF15 (growth differentiation factor 15) known to be involved in appetite, weight loss, muscle atrophy, fatigue, and weakness (all symptoms found in women suffering from HG) as well as development of the placenta. (7, 8)
More severe cases of HG can result in alkalosis, low blood potassium, damage to the eyes, ears, jaw, esophagus, and encephalopathy (brain dysfunction). Thankfully, these extreme cases are very rare. (9) In most cases of HG, the symptoms disappear by mid-pregnancy.
Tips to Counter Pregnancy Sickness
Pregnancy is a truly wonderful, exciting time and short-term discomfort is usually more than offset by all the marvels that go with it.
And while morning sickness may mean a more intelligent child; it’s a small price to pay for a healthy, adaptable baby. If you experience nausea and/or vomiting during pregnancy, you can find tips on how to ease the unpleasantness here.