Why we need to stop saying “morning sickness”

Pregnant people deserve a term that truly reflects the severity and seriousness of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy, says Dr Claudia Pastides

Nausea and vomiting can strike at any time of the day or night during early pregnancy, so health professionals are encouraging people to stop using the phrase “morning sickness”.

“‘Please, not again’”, I thought to myself as the wave of nausea returned. It was quickly followed by a hot flash and the curdling of another sick spell. At eight weeks pregnant, I was well acquainted with one of the most common symptoms of pregnancy: nausea and vomiting.

One afternoon, as I sat down with my manager for an urgent work discussion, I could feel the vomit volcano ready to erupt. I had no choice but to run to the restroom as quickly as possible. If this was just ‘morning sickness’, then why did I feel so horrendous? And why was it happening throughout the day?”, Chloe Lovell—a writer and mum-of-two based in the UK—shares her experience of pregnancy sickness.

A study published in 2020 by the University of Warwick found that 94% of women experienced nausea and/or vomiting during their pregnancy. The same research found that these symptoms occurred throughout the day— not just in the morning. Despite this knowledge and many medical websites citing that ‘morning sickness’ is a misnomer, it continues to be used regularly. 

“Morning sickness sounds like something that is confined to just one part of the day, and that is simply not true. Nausea and vomiting in pregnancy can occur at any time of the day”, says Dr Sara Twogood, MD, an OB-GYN (obstetrician and gynaecologist) at Cedars-Sinai Medical Group, Los Angeles, and medical expert at Flo Health.

Dr Twogood believes the phrase “morning sickness” trivialises the symptom, and she highlights that the phrase is, in fact, not medically correct.

Whilst this pregnancy symptom is common, the severity varies from person to person—and even pregnancy to pregnancy. The phrase “morning sickness” may convey the idea that nausea and vomiting in pregnancy are short lived and easily managed.

But that isn’t the case for everyone. Whilst some may have mild symptoms, others may develop post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of their severe experience.

In extreme cases, 3 per cent of pregnant people experience a severe form of nausea and vomiting during pregnancy, known as hyperemesis gravidarum (HG). This can lead to dehydration and urgent hospitalisation and can even have a lasting impact on the mental health of a pregnant person.

A 2021 survey published in the journal Obstetric Medicine found that 25.5% of the 5,000 pregnant women with HG surveyed occasionally thought about suicide. A further 6.6 per cent regularly considered suicide as a result of living with HG. Heartbreaking stats.

Many countries are already leading the way: France, Sweden, Spain, and Italy all use the more generic terms of “pregnancy nausea” or “pregnancy sickness”. Pregnant people deserve a term that truly reflects the severity and seriousness of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy, not one that makes light of a condition that can leave people in hospital or considering ending their lives.

"Pregnant people deserve a term that [doesn't] make light of a condition that can leave people in hospital or considering ending their lives"

Nicola Cutcher and Charlotte Howden have launched the Not Morning Sickness campaign calling on health professionals, the media, retailers, and the public to make pledges in support of it, using the hashtag #NotMorningSickness and detailing how they can help to change the language.

Flo Health, creator of the world’s leading female health app Flo, is joining forces with them by making changes in their content policy. Moving forward, all new content found within the Flo app will refer to “morning sickness” as “nausea and vomiting”, as pledged here.

The company aims this shift in language to reflect the symptoms more accurately and to help more women and pregnant people experiencing it to get the support they need.

The Flo App

“Flo is committed to creating a better future for female health, and this includes providing women with accurate and accessible health information. Over 28 million women have logged pregnancy while using Flo, and while morning sickness sounds like something that is confined to just one part of the day, nausea and vomiting in pregnancy can occur at any time of the day.

Given that the term is outdated and medically incorrect, we are joining in on the effort to put an end to this term. From this point forward, all new content found within the Flo app will refer to ‘morning sickness’ as ‘nausea and vomiting’. We hope that this shift in language will reflect the symptoms more accurately and encourage a greater sense of self-advocacy among those who experience this condition”, said Cath Everett, Vice President of Product & Content at Flo Health.

Continuing to use the misnomer “morning sickness” perpetuates trivialising the seriousness of this condition. Let’s ditch this phrase and properly acknowledge it for what it truly is: nausea and vomiting that can, even in “mild” forms, significantly disrupt the lives of pregnant people.

Dr Claudia Pastides is the Medical Adviser at Flo Health

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