Everyone is familiar with the idea of nausea and vomiting in the first few months of pregnancy. Morning sickness may very well be the most commonly known pregnancy symptom. But were you aware that nausea and vomiting might once more rear its ugly head during labor and birth? Let’s take a look at when and why you might experience vomiting during labor.
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Table of contents
- When Am I Most Likely to Experience Vomiting During Labor?
- What Can I Do to Help Vomiting During Labor?
- Labor and Childbirth Interventions and Vomiting
One [thing I didn’t expect] was the vomiting. I knew that it could happen, but I expected it to be a couple of times during the elimination processes in early labor. I vomited after particularly intense contractions throughout my entire labor, save when I was dosed with Zofran or the epidural. This made it impossible to eat and drink freely like I had wanted to, and added another layer to cope with.Jacquie M. from the Kopa Birth® Members Facebook Group
When Am I Most Likely to Experience Vomiting During Labor?
It is possible to find yourself nauseated or vomiting during any part of labor, but the most common time is during transition–the third phase of labor. In order to understand the whole picture, let’s look quickly at transition and see what’s happening in your body during this time.
Learn More: What are the Three Stages of Labor?
Transition is considered by many to be the most intense part of labor. It follows early and active labor, and precedes the pushing phase. Your cervix is doing its final work of dilating between 8-10 centimeters, and baby is starting to descend into your birth canal (1). Contractions are longer (lasting one to two minutes) and they come closer together (two to three minutes apart.) This is a very intense time in which the muscles in your body are transitioning from the job of dilating the cervix to the job of pushing baby down and out (2). For many, transition is the most physically and emotionally taxing part of labor.
It is during this time that some women experience nausea or feel a catch in their throat, and vomiting is not at all uncommon. One reason for this is that your body has high levels of adrenaline (1). As with any adrenaline rush, you may feel a fight or flight response. This can include a racing heart, fear, agitation, hot flashes, chills, trembling, and yes, nausea and vomiting. If all of these symptoms sounds overwhelming, know that while transition is intense and challenging, it is the shortest phase of labor. You can do it!
Nausea as a Sign of Labor
As we said above, it’s possible to experience nausea and/or vomiting anytime throughout the process of labor and birth. Second to transition, the other most common time to experience vomiting is just before the onset of labor. In fact, it’s one of the signals that may help you distinguish real labor from false labor (3). Doctors aren’t entirely sure what causes this, but it could be your body’s reaction to the hormone shifts necessary to begin labor.
What Can I Do to Help Vomiting During Labor?
Unfortunately, there is no way to assure that you won’t have to deal with nausea or vomiting during delivery. You can’t change the hormones coursing through your body or how your body reacts to them. However, there are some tips to potentially curb vomiting that you may find helpful.
1. Drink Plenty of Water
Dehydration can lead to nausea, and of course that can lead to vomiting. Staying hydrated not only keeps you strong for the hard work of childbirth, but it can reduce the chances of feeling nauseated or throwing up.
2. Eat if You’re Hungry
There was a time when laboring women weren’t allowed to eat, but that practice is becoming more and more outdated. Experts now recognize that there’s no harm in eating, and that in fact, it’s good for you to eat if you feel up to it.
In 2015, the American Society of Anesthesiologists put out a statement that says that most healthy women benefit from eating a light meal during labor. It says, in part, that “the energy and caloric demands of laboring women are similar to those of marathon runners” and that “without adequate nutrition, women’s bodies will begin to use fat as an energy source, increasing acidity of the blood in the mother and infant, potentially reducing uterine contractions and leading to longer labor and lower health scores in newborns.”
Not only is eating in labor an important step in maintaining stamina, but an empty stomach can make you feel nauseated and experience vomiting or dry heaving. Don’t worry – eating more has not been shown to increase the chance of vomiting (4).
3. Choose Simple, Non-Greasy Foods
In Kopa’s online childbirth course, I remind women not to eat something in early labor that they don’t want to see come back up again later in labor. Yes, eating in early labor is important, but remember to stick to simple, easy-to-digest foods. Avoid greasy, rich foods such as burgers, french fries, and pizza. Consider oatmeal, fruit, or pasta as more stomach-friendly options, instead.
4. Try a Cool Washcloth
A cool washcloth on the back of the neck or forehead can be very helpful in combating nausea or vomiting. You can also try an ice pack wrapped in a washcloth. Note, some women find this to be refreshing, yet it can be uncomfortably cold to others.
5. Eat or Sniff Ginger or Peppermint
Both ginger and peppermint can help with nausea, and you can try eating them or using essential oils. Ginger ale may have little or no actual ginger in it, so pack some candied ginger in your hospital bag. If you intend to use essential oils, consider trying aromatherapy (putting the oil on a cotton ball or using a diffuser) rather than placing the oil directly on your skin. Why? If you find that the scent is more irritating than helpful, it’s much easier to turn off a diffuser or throw out a cotton ball than it is to remove the scent of the oil from your skin.
Labor and Childbirth Interventions and Vomiting
At times, hospital-based interventions can be powerful tools to help you have a safe and positive birth experience. Still, some interventions can increase the likelihood that you’ll experience vomiting in labor. For example, nausea and vomiting are potential side effects of epidurals, some narcotic pain medications, and nitrous oxide. Yet, some women report that their nausea eased after receiving pain medication in labor. And the use of a medication like Zofran can be a helpful intervention to quickly combat nausea and vomiting.
Be sure to research the pros and cons of each intervention before moving forward. Keeping yourself educated and keeping open lines of communication with your care team are the best ways to understand what’s happening with your body and feel empowered to make the best decisions for you and your baby.
Kopa Birth’s online birthing classes allow you to prepare for a natural hospital birth from the comfort of your own home, 24/7. Enroll today in our free online childbirth class and start preparing for your natural birth!
- Simkin, P. (2010). Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn, 4th edition. Meadowbrook Press.
- Sears, W., & Sears, M. (1994). The birth book: Everything you need to know to have a safe and satisfying birth. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company.
- Ladewig, P. W., London, M. L., & Davidson, M. R. (2017). Contemporary maternal-newborn nursing care. Boston, MA: Pearson.
- Ciardulli A, Saccone G, Anastasio H, Berghella V. Less-Restrictive Food Intake During Labor in Low-Risk Singleton Pregnancies: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Obstet Gynecol. 2017 Mar;129(3):473-480. doi: 10.1097/AOG.0000000000001898. PMID: 28178059.