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Parenting: Growing in Good Health

Easing the Queasies

By Carrie Myers Smith

"I recall totally grossing out my husband by eating a toasted peanut butter, banana, and M&M sandwich and then ... walking over to the fridge, and eating horseradish straight out of the jar."

Pickles and ice cream are just the beginning.

Women, especially pregnant women have a very complex relationship with food. From late-night runs to the convenience store to morning sickness, pregnancy is often a time for a new love-hate relationship with food. But why? And what is the connection between food cravings, food aversions, and morning sickness?

According to Miriam Erick, M.S., R.D., author of No More Morning Sickness: A Survival Guide for Pregnant Women, it all comes down to hyperolfaction, or what she calls, "the radar nose of pregnancy."

During pregnancy, increased estrogen makes a woman's already sharp sense of smell even more acute. This super-nose powers not only strong cravings, but also strong aversions — read: morning sickness.

Heave ho!

For Shel Franco, tuna fish became her greatest nemesis. "I couldn't stomach the taste or stand the smell," she remembers. "One evening when I hugged my father, I just couldn't stand it — he smelled so much like tuna fish. When I finally said something, he laughed so hard. He had a tuna fish sandwich for lunch! Talk about the heightened senses of a pregnant woman!"

For other women, just the thought of certain foods is enough to make them want to vomit. "With my first daughter, I threw up 24 hours a day," recalls Kim Hoelzli. "The rule was, if I could think about, I would try to eat it — but don't ask me about it later. My husband asked what I had managed to eat one day after I got home from work and before I could tell him I threw it up!"

The nose knows

As any mother knows, pregnant women need to eat for two. But what's a girl to do if she can't keep anything down?

First, keep in mind that in most cases, morning sickness is no great cause for concern. In severe cases dehydration can occur, but most often morning sickness goes away after the first trimester without posing any serious problems.

In fact, studies have shown that morning sickness can actually be a sign of a healthy pregnancy. According to a report in the May issue of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the nausea and vomiting so many women experience during the first months of pregnancy may, paradoxically, nourish their babies by keeping certain hormone levels in check,

Other studies indicate that women with morning sickness are less likely to suffer miscarriages or have premature or low birth weight babies.

However beneficial it may be for baby, for most moms morning sickness is no fun. The good news is that women have devised all sorts of strategies for getting through it.

So, what should you eat to ease the queasies?

"Pretty much anything goes!" says Erick. What one woman craves, may make the next woman sick. So in other words, follow your nose!

Can't get enough

While some might think that women suffering from morning sickness would stick to dry toast and ginger ale, in reality they tend to crave some really far-out things.

"I recall totally grossing out my husband," says Hoelzli, "by eating a toasted peanut butter, banana, and M&M sandwich and then ... walking over to the fridge, and eating horseradish straight out of the jar."

"I craved lima beans and sauerkraut — cold from the can!" recounts Crystal Cook. "But I couldn't stand milk or anything thick, like mayo. One day in the store, just before Christmas ... I heard a voice say, 'Would you like to try a sample of eggnog?' I looked up and the woman had one of those tiny cups of eggnog right in my face. I threw up on the spot! She said, 'I guess not!' It was so embarrassing!"

One combination that Erick has found to be quite successful is potato chips and lemonade.

"There's something about the combination of the salty/sweet/tart that is very satisfying," she says. "And potatoes are high in magnesium, potassium, and folic acid, so they are actually healthier than the highly recommended saltine cracker."

Potato chips aren't often touted for their health benefits, but morning sickness throws the everyday rules out the window.

"The frenzy about eating healthy needs to be relaxed with morning sickness," says Erick. "Great if it happens, but pushing healthy food during a nausea crisis is likely to generate a scapegoat' situation, that is, a strong negative association from that food forever more."

But, just when you thought you could eat anything ... heartburn.

Burn baby burn

While heartburn can strike anyone, pregnant women are especially prone to that acidic, burning feeling from the chest to the throat.

In pregnancy, the causes are varied. Heartburn can result from hormonal changes which cause an increase in stomach acid and laxity of the epiglottis, your growing uterus pressing everything upward and, some say, a baby with a lot of hair.

"Well," laughs Erick, "I can't really comment on that one. There have been no studies to my knowledge!" An old wives tale, perhaps, but some women swear it.

Whatever the cause of heartburn, many women wonder what they can eat to avoid it. Unfortunately, as with morning sickness, there's no easy answer. "It didn't matter what I ate," says Hannah Hayes, "or if I ate nothing at all."

"Even water gave me heartburn," recalls Michele, mother of four. When water can be the culprit, what's a woman with heartburn to do?

According to Julie Hohmeister, ARNP, a nurse practitioner who specializes in maternal/child health, there are a few techniques you can try. The first is to reduce the size of your meals.

Hohmeister also suggests not lying down after eating and recommends waiting about 20-30 minutes between consuming liquids and solids. "Drinking a little bit of milk before a meal may help to coat the stomach," she adds, "which in turn can help alleviate heartburn."

For many women, food and pregnancy is one of those "can't live with it, can't live without it" deals. Overall, the experts say just do your best to get nutritionally balanced meals. Don’t stress-out if you're not able to keep it all down, or if you find yourself eating what wouldn't normally be considered very healthy.

And, creativity is key. Take what Troya Yoder did: "I had two meals each time; the first one I threw up, the second I was usually able to keep down!"

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