Using acupuncture and herbs to treat morning sickness

Guest post by Jessica Timins

By: MichaelCC BY 2.0
As some of us luckies can attest, Morning Sickness is a total misnomer, as it may last all day, not to mention well into the second trimester. We can take some comfort in knowing that studies have shown the incidence of morning sickness correlates with lower rates of miscarriage, but this can feel pretty empty when you’re hugging a toilet bowl.

There are a handful of anti-nausea drugs that are considered safe for pregnancy. However, you can’t run drug trials on pregnant women, as it’s unethical, so no one has actually tested them in the most approved scientific fashion (double-blind, randomized control studies). Yet doctors can still give these drugs to pregnant women based on expert opinion, which means they don’t think that anything bad will happen. Most of these drugs have proven fairly innocuous, with the notorious exception of Thalidomide, which caused babies to be born with flipper-like extremities.

As an informed and offbeat consumer, you may want to consider alternative approaches to treating morning sickness. Acupuncture has been used safely and effectively by pregnant women for thousands of years, long before anything resembling Western medical science existed. It is all natural, with no drugs or potentially harmful side effects to threaten your health or that of your baby.


Acupuncture involves the insertion of very fine, sterile, single-use needles into specific points on the body to adjust the flow of qi (life-force energy). With hundreds of points all over the body, acupuncture assists the body in correcting the flow of qi. It can strengthen deficiency, remove excess, or smooth the flow of qi as necessary. Best of all, it can make your nausea and vomiting a thing of the past.

You can try it yourself at home by using acupressure, which is the application of pressure to the same points an acupuncturist would needle. Most local pharmacies, as well as websites like amazon.com, carry inexpensive acupressure wrist bands that provide constant, gentle stimulation to a point well-known to alleviate nausea. A full acupuncture treatment is generally more effective and long-lasting, especially in more severe cases.

Herbal medicine is another great approach. Ginger can be a very effective herb to prevent and treat morning sickness. You can drink it in tea, eat ginger candies, or take it in capsules (if you can still swallow pills, that is—if you find yourself gagging on your toothbrush, you’re not alone!). Ginger ale is another nice way to get your ginger, especially when it’s made from actual ginger like Reed’s.

There are also a variety of other herbs, including Chinese herbs, which can address nausea and vomiting. It’s best to consult a skilled herbalist if you are going to venture further into the herbal world to treat yourself, as some herbs are not suitable for pregnancy. These methods tend to work best in conjunction with acupuncture. Acupuncture and Chinese medicine can also treat a wide variety of other conditions during the childbearing year, including mood swings, constipation, breech presentation, pain, colds, headaches, and insufficient breast milk.

Other helpful hints:

  • Eat bland foods. This includes all things white: white bread, white rice, mild white cheese, crackers, yogurt, pasta. Yes, whole grains are healthier, but if you can’t get them down, their nutrition won’t help you. Grilled cheese sandwiches and kefir were the holy grail of my first trimester, when the thought of eating my usual healthy vegan diet inspired dry heaves.
  • Try splitting things up into small snack-sized portions. Sometimes it’s easier to deal with a smaller serving of food which you can actually imagine getting and keeping down.
  • Morning sickness is usually worst upon waking because you have just spent an extended period of time without calories, so you may want to keep some non-spoilable snacks like crackers by the bedside. If the thought of food turns your stomach, have someone else pack your snacks or prepare food for you.
  • Certain smells may also trigger your morning sickness. You can safely use essential oils to distract yourself. A drop or two on your wrist or a tissue or just a whiff from the bottle is usually enough. Try citrusy scents like lemon, grapefruit or orange, or minty smells like peppermint or spearmint. I’ve even known a woman who kept an actual lemon in her pocket.

Comments on Using acupuncture and herbs to treat morning sickness

  1. During my pregnancy I found that keeping my blood sugar stable was the key to preventing “morning” sickness. I would eat a small breakfast before I got out of bed, then I would make my lunch and snack bag for work, and I would snack every hour or two all day long. Luckily I always craved healthy foods – fruit, vegetables, nuts, etc. – otherwise I would have gained a ridiculous amount of weight!

    I found that the amount of time between “I think I could eat a little something” and “OMG GIVE ME FOOD NOW BEFORE I RIP YOUR HEAD OFF AND THROW UP DOWN YOUR THROAT!!!” was about 20 minutes. Carrying food with me all the time helped trememndously!

    • That makes a lot of sense. I’ve never been pregnant and the following isn’t pregnancy related. That said, when my mother was on chemo, she found that eating small amounts throughout the day helped her nausea more than anything else. I think the body likes to rebel a lot more if the needle goes to E.

  2. Actually, carbonation does not leech calcium from your bones. Most people replace calcium containing drinks and foods in favor of soda, leading to poor calcium intake in the first place. There is some research that phosphoric acid in soda causing calcium leeching, but that is only a problem if, again, your calcium consumption is insufficient.

  3. I can attest to acupuncture for morning sickness! I was sick enough to be on Zofran and it still wasn’t enough. My acupuncturist saved me from the hospital. Next time I’ll start there and hopefully avoid the drugs completely!

    • Sorry to say this, (because acupunture has been my salvation for multiple things, not only “morning sickness”), but I started with acupuntureand had to go to the ER due to (excessive) vomiting (TMI, sorry!) and was given a pill every 8 hours (“Epidac” in Argentina, if anyone is interested). Consistent Epidac (as in, no matter if I´m sick or not) has been a (sorta) miracle drug for me in both my pregnancies. Of course every body is different. In fact, though my 1st trimester pregnancies where just a few months apart (the first resulted in an mc) both pregnancies were VERY DIFFERENT from each other, so you never know…
      Any way, one morning on the way to the acupunturist, I become I-wanna-die sick, the kind where I couldn´t bear being on the bus anymore, but still had like a half hour to go to get to my destination. Once I got there (looking pale/greenish), they rushed me in and turned me into a human pin cushion. I walked out of there feeling the best I´ve ever felt… : )

  4. I was managing a gas station in my first trimester, and the first thing I did when I stumbled in at 5:45AM was pop open a can of 7UP and eat some crackers. Usually I spent the first half hour just sniffing it — it was heaven.

  5. PLEASE be careful with alternative medicines. NCCAM is a great resource for scientific research into the safety and efficacy of such drugs. At the best, such drugs may be effective or noneffective (and thus a waste of money) – at worst, they can be extremely harmful.

    • Rose, while I appreciate your concern, I’m not sure acupuncture counts as much of an alternative medicine any more. My extremely NON-alternative very western medicine doctor recommended acupuncture in conjunction with IVF because western studies have shown its helpfulness. (That’s a link to the NCCAM’s discussion of the effectiveness acupuncture and IVF.)

      More importantly, I trust each reader to do their best research and decide what is best for them. I certainly don’t want to spread misinformation (and am double checking with Jessica about the carbonation/calcium issue) but I also think acupuncture is a pretty commonly accepted treatment.

      • Wow, a response! Major props to your doctor.

        My concern was more with herbs than with acupuncture (though quackwatch.org has some horrific info on both). While ginger is pretty safe, it’s hard to tell what else is, especially while pregnant (e.g., chasteberry). I have a lot of skepticism for anything that doesn’t have any scientific research behind it…especially something as unregulated as herbal supplements.

        I’ve just heard a lot of horror stories (quackwatch.org) about people who used forms of alternative medicine (even chiropractic!) and were badly hurt. So I’m a bit paranoid.

        • I think a good dose of skepticism is really healthy, actually. In my years as a doula, I spent most of my time helping walk people through the Informed Consent process: what do they want you to do? What are the possible benefits and desired results? What are the risks? Are there any alternatives? What happens if we do nothing at all? These are 4 really important questions to ask about any medical procedure or drug. If you don’t like the answers, don’t do it.
          As for herbs, I think it’s really important to see a skilled herbalist, just the same as it’s really important to see a skilled doctor to get drugs. Licensed Chinese medical practitioners have completed a rigorous, multi-year herbal program which includes ob/gyn concerns.
          It’s easy to find horror stories about any sort of medicine. Sadly, some are true. For me, a good dose of skepticism also applies to anything I read on the internet.

  6. I only vomited 3 times when I was pregnant, but I had daily issues with acid reflux, and Tums didn’t help. My cure was that I ate cheetos as soon as I got to work everyday. I think it absorbed my stomache acid, because I’d feel great after a few handfuls. I’m sure puffed corn cereal would have worked just as well though, and probably would have contributed less to my 50 pound weight gain.

  7. I used acupuncture for my pregnancy-induced sciatica, and it was very helpful. I loved it. I fell asleep with the needles in every time and woke up feeling vibrant!

    If you’re worried about the cost of acupuncture, you should google “Community Acupuncture Clinics” and the area you live in. There is a growing movement of acupuncturists who want to make it accessible to all people. They charge on a sliding scale, usually $15-40 per visit.

    The Pin Cushion Clinic in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood is wonderful, and a mom-owned business.

    • There are so many community clinics in the Seattle area; we’re really lucky! They follow a couple of different models. Most have you sit in a comfy chair in one big room, with a varying number of other people, where you all receive treatment. Others, like Kangwen (a non-profit clinic in the Capitol Hill area) follow a private practice model, where you have your own private space. Both models can be great! Many private practitioners also employ sliding scales of varying degrees.

  8. Yes, I too experienced Morning Sickness during the first few months of each of my pregnancies. Whilst I did not receive Acupuncture,my doctor showed me specific acupressure points to stimulate. When I remembered to massage the points in my first pregnancy they really helped, especially when I was at work. Second pregnancy I wasn’t working and I found it easier to get into a self nurturing routine of nausea prevention massage and reflexology.

  9. Bleah. Morning sickness. I threw up every Monday and Thursday morning from about 6 weeks to 14 weeks. Not sure why those two days were “special”. It was really weird. The days I didn’t throw up, I felt like total crap in the AM.

    The eating crackers thing didn’t help me at all. It’s really trial and error for what works, so if something “tried and true” for other moms isn’t doing it for you, try something else. I just tried eating breakfast food that wasn’t too horrendous to experience a second time. (Raisin Bran or anything healthy and filled with fiber is bad. Froot Loops or other kids cereals is okay time number two)

    Chewing gum or sucking on lemonheads worked too. As for eating, I ate what sounded good at that moment. Sometimes I had a soft pretzel with nacho cheese for dinner. Yeah, totally gross, but it’s what I wanted. 🙂

  10. I’ve been extremely lucky when it comes to morning sickness. Maybe this counts though? With bub 1 I would throw up after brushing my teeth for a while. Very counterproductive as it meant I had to brush them again, leading to… you get the picture. It didn’t last long and my solution was to drink raspberry cordial just before brushing so that the taste coming out wasn’t too gross. Tasted just like the cordial going in. Is that too much info? Anyway, I don’t drink raspberry cordial anymore.

    • Nice solution. Perhaps a little gross when you think about it too much, but raspberry cordial sure tastes better than bile. I had friend who suffered really bad morning sickness in her second pregnancy and, funnily enough, she drank a lot of raspberry cordial during the worst of it. Perhaps now I know the real reason why.

  11. I couldn’t cook or pack my lunch or think about food without feeling sick. My husband obligingly made me toasted cheese and tomato sandwhiches, and bought tropical fruit icypoles by the box. For about two weeks that was all I felt eating and the rest of the time I just had to play it by ear. Like Elly, I’m not impressed with some of choices that I mades, but I figured that, if I couldn’t handle thinking about it without feeling sick, it would be better than eating nothing at all.

    I agree that the ginger helped (I even kept ginger chews stashed in my work apron), but nothing made it completely go away.

    I only threw up two or three times the whole time (well, so far. I haven’t felt sick for a couple of months now), but I just felt waves on nausea on and off all day. It was awful. Just like being seasick and knowing that you have wait until you get to land before you get off the god damn boat.

  12. My mom said that in both her pregnancies, her nausea went away for the day if she just let herself throw up first thing in the morning, rather than try to fight it.

    • I envy your mom. I threw up all day, every day, for the first two and a half trimesters of my first pregnancy. I had to carry a big cup with me everywhere I went because there was no way I could make it to a bathroom. The RX meds helped, but I still felt awful and threw up if I did anything other than sleep on the couch. Ginger also helped, but not enough. Ohhh man, I don’t miss that!! How I ever had the guts to have a second, I do not know(because I’d assumed I had puked them all out, at that point).

  13. I’m not pregnant yet, but I’m suffering with endometriosis, and until I can have surgery, I’m suffering daily with crazy amounts of nausea. Ugh, even just seeing the word makes my stomach turn. However, this week someone finally suggested ginger capsules to me (other than the typical gravol and whatnot) and they are saving my life! I take 4 a day, right before meals and bed, and I (knock on wood) have been able to get off the couch and move around the last couple days-and eat! I still have to watch what I eat, and how much (basically whatever sounds good to me at the time, and not too much) but WOW, what a difference! Just thought you ladies might want to know! 🙂

  14. Bland foods saved my life! I’m happy that I can eat foods that actually taste now!
    I still can’t eat anything with Apples which makes me sad… there my favorite and all I ever used to snack on.

    On a side note… I found that sex helped a lot with being nauseous. I realize that when you feel like throwing up sex isn’t something going through your mind but believe me it helps… not sure why though.

  15. I had morning sickness through week 24 of pregnancy. At 24 weeks I tried acupuncture and it cured me. It was night and day difference and all I needed was one time. I no longer have nausea, food aversions or lack of appetite. It truly feels like a miracle. I wish I’d tried it earlier. My acupuncturist said past 14 weeks she had great success treating it and needing only 1 to 2 treatments. Prior to 14 weeks, the relief is probably temporary. It’s worth a try for anyone suffering. I felt like I was barely surviving each day, throwing up several times a week, eating bland stuff in the morning stopped working. Coke Cola was the only thing I could sip on during the day (the phosphoric acid) would help keep me from throwing up. Acupuncture worked wonders for me.

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