Morning Sickness and Chinese Medicine


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Most women suffer from morning sickness, or nausea and vomiting, during pregnancy. The condition is extremely common, up to 80% of women experience nausea, vomiting and or dry retching in their first weeks of pregnancy. Knowing it is a common symptom of pregnancy is a small comfort however to the women who feel like they are on a perpetual carousel.

Morning sickness can, and more commonly, affects pregnant woman at any time of day, not just in the morning. It is described as nausea or a “hung over feeling”.” Vomiting or dry retching is also common. Morning sickness generally starts between the 4th and 6th week of pregnancy and resolves by the 20h week, for some women though the symptoms can last until their child is full term. Not all women get morning sickness, if you are one of these women, consider yourself lucky!

To understand morning sickness from a Chinese medical perspective we need to step back and talk a little theory first.

The ancient Chinese used very eloquent language to explain very complex physiological processes in our bodies. And when they pondered the question “how do we, humans, stay alive?” they coined the terms “pre natal qi” and “post natal qi.”

In order to sustain life, we humans start with ‘Pre natal qi’ this is the qi that is given to us by our parents, or our genetics. Why do I have brown hair but my friend has blue eyes? Because we have different pre natal qi from our parents. Pre natal qi is said to be stored in our Kidneys.

Every day though we need to eat and drink and breathe to stay alive. What we chose to eat and drink becomes a part of us, it is our “post natal qi” Post-natal qi is processed through our Spleen and Stomach. A normal functioning Spleen and Stomach in Chinese medicine will give our bodies symptom free digestion. However if there is an obstruction or imbalance we may start to feel bloated, nauseous, tired or even start to vomit.

To support a pregnancy a woman must use both her pre natal qi and her post natal qi. These two processes are linked by the Chong channel, a central acupuncture channel.  Pregnancy naturally causes an obstruction in this energy, and causes – you guessed it – morning sickness.

Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine for Morning Sickness

Morning sickness can severely affect quality of life, interfere with daily activities and create a lot of anxiety.Even though morning sickness is a typical symptom of pregnancy there are safe and effective treatment options using Chinese medicine.

Women all experience morning sickness a little differently, therefore all women are treated differently with Chinese medicine. A woman who feels nauseous without vomiting versus the woman who is vomiting all day long are different patterns, even though they both have “morning sickness.” A popular saying amongst Chinese medicine practitioners is “One illness, one hundred treatments” – it means even though a group all experience the same condition, like morning sickness, not all morning sickness is the same and therefore requires distinct treatment.

To determine what herbs and acupuncture will work best to treat a patient, a tongue and pulse diagnosis is necessary. Unfamiliar with tongue diagnosis? Please check out our previous post: Of Tongues And Men. Learn more about pulse taking in our blogpost: The Pulse. This along with a thorough intake of the symptoms and medical history provide the Chinese medicine practitioner the right information to provide the safest and most effective treatment.

Chinese Herbs for Morning Sickness

Chinese medicine has been used for women’s health issues for thousands of years. Since Chine medicine has focused on women’s health for so long they have developed a wide variety of effective herbal formulas that are safe for both mother and baby. Not only has the medicine been used for centuries, the Chinese kept meticulous records that have been maintained for present day use. No other form of medicine has such a long and well documented history. The oldest text on Chinese herbalism dates back to 2800 BCE. This long and rich history benefits women even today

Several effective combinations of Chinese herbs exist for women suffering from morning sickness. Some Chinese herbs for nausea are not recommended for nausea from pregnancy, so always talk to a qualified Chinese medical provider before taking any herbs. The herbs cardamom seed (sha ren) and fresh ginger (sheng jiang) are frequently used to treat morning sickness.

Cardamom seed, also known as sha ren in Chinese herbalism is an especially powerful herb for morning sickness. It is specifically listed in ancient chinese texts as having an ability to “calm the fetus” and is used alone or with other herbal medicinals for nausea and vomiting. Mix powdered cardamon seed into oatmeal, on buttered toast or into your coffee or tea.

Fresh ginger (sheng jiang) is used in cooking, teas and as a powder for nausea and morning sickness. Try slicing 60g, approximately one thumb’s length, of fresh ginger and slowly simmer it in two pints of filtered water for 10-15 minutes. Enjoy and sip slowly.

If your morning sickness is more severe, you may benefit from working with a qualified acupuncturist and Chinese medicine specialist to properly diagnose and treat the pattern of your unique morning sickness.

At home morning sickness tips

  • Practice deep “belly breathing” while feeling nausea

  • Get fresh air

  • Sit in near a fan, breathing in circulated air can reduce nausea

  • Mint tea with lemon – mint is refreshing and a good alternative if you do not like the taste of ginger. Fresh mint tea leaves are best, adding lemon is especially delicious.

  • Wear loose fitting clothing. allow your body to relax and enjoy your favorite pair of comfy pants.

Recent Medical Research

Medical research has also shown acupuncture to be effective in morning sickness symptoms. A recent study looked at 600 pregnant women under 14 weeks into their pregnancy. Women were given just 20 minutes of acupuncture a week and their  nausea and retching was reduced dramatically.


Acupuncture is a very safe intervention for morning sickness. When performed by a qualified licensed practitioner acupuncture is safe for both mother and fetus. Always talk to you health care provider about herbs and supplements you are taking. Many prescription and nonprescription medicines are not recommended during pregnancy, so always talk to your health care providers before trying any medications or herbs for morning sickness.

Hyperemesis gravidarum

Severe vomiting during pregnancy, Hyperemesis gravidarum, can result in dehydration and other serious complications.  If you are experience unrelenting vomiting  with the inability to hold down water seek immediate medical attention.


Lee, Noel M, et al. Nausea and Vomiting in Pregnancy. University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health Date retrieved February 23,2016

Maciocia, Giovani. Obstetrics and Gynecology in Chinese Medicine. Elsevier. Second edition 2011

Smith C, et al. Acupuncture to treat nausea and vomiting in early pregnancy: a randomized controlled trial. Birth. 2002.

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