This is an article in our Pregnancy Week by Week series, a resource to help you manage your job and life, through and after your pregnancy.

Week 9: How To Handle (Or Hide) Your Morning Sickness At Work

Most pregnant women -- up to 75% -- experience “morning sickness” symptoms in their first trimester, starting between 4-6 weeks into the pregnancy.

And just whose idea was it to call it “morning sickness,” anyway? Is that revenge from the guys for calling out their “man flu”?

As anyone who’s gone through it can attest, those waves of nausea can hit you at any time. Yes, sometimes it happens in the morning, but just as often it may hit you in the middle of a presentation or while you’re on the phone with your boss.

According to BabyCenter, the medical term for it is one of the most literal we’ve ever heard: “nausea and vomiting of pregnancy.” Yep, that pretty much sums it up. (And at least it doesn’t imply the rest of the day after breakfast is all hunky-dory).

For many women, feeling physically ill is one of the most difficult aspects of being pregnant at work. Emily*, who works at a mid-sized consumer packaged goods company in San Francisco, said that she felt completely supported throughout her pregnancy because she “worked with a bunch of women who have families so everyone was helpful throughout the process.” For her, the hardest part about being pregnant at work was simply “being nauseous and throwing up until week 17.”

Wendy*, who works the educational publishing industry, agreed that the physical discomfort was the toughest part about being pregnant at work. She recounts, “Morning sickness, three bagels before noon, constant crackers, it was awful.”

Not only can feeling physically sick be a huge distraction, but if you have a bad case of morning sickness, it can also be impossible to disguise. For some of us, it means that we have to tell our managers and bosses at work earlier than we would have liked.

For Wendy, this meant she “had to tell [her boss] when the morning sickness kicked in big time. I would have to pull over on the way to work to throw up and spent a majority of the morning in the bathroom. My co-workers were like -- you have the flu -- go home! So that’s when I told them.” So much for the best laid plans to wait until there was a good moment to have a civilized 1-on-1 with your manager.

If you don’t have hyperemesis gravidarum (which is a relatively rare but very extreme case of nausea and vomiting) and want to hide your morning sickness, here are some tips:

  1. Try to understand your triggers for nausea and avoid them. Many women find there are patterns. For example, try to avoid the foods or smells or activities that bring it on.

  2. Similarly, if there’s anything that tends to make you feel better (e.g. saltines, ginger ale, Coke, etc), don’t feel guilty about keeping those things around for momentary relief. Even if these items don’t normally make it into your diet, it’s only a few weeks longer before you’ll be able to get back into your regularly-scheduled, healthy routine.

  3. Just in case, try to locate the nearest private or handicapped bathrooms so nobody knows what you’re doing in there if you do need to make a run for it.

  4. If you have have one of the milder cases of morning sickness and vomit for a limited period of time, you can probably blame food poisoning or a stomach bug for a while. No guilt, please -- this is the very definition of a white lie!

  5. Carry little bottles of travel-sized mouthwash or a mini toothbrush and toothpaste during this period.

  6. Some women recommend keeping a paper puke bag handy. Though you may wish they were large enough to crawl into and they won’t help you hide anything, you might find them useful in the car if you get motion-sick during your commute.

  7. If you must leave a meeting in order to use the restroom, try to politely excuse yourself or just walk out. Most people will probably assume you just need to use the bathroom and leave it at that.

  8. If things get really bad, talk to your doctor to find out if you can take any anti-nausea medication that is pregnancy safe.


*Emily and Wendy have lovely real names but had tough pregnancies at work and would rather like to put those episodes in the past.

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Did anyone else have really bad morning sickness?

I'm starting to get a really bad case of morning sickness and have had to take a couple days off work because I didn't want anyone to know. I feel like it's way to early to have the conversation at work but if I keep having to run to the bathroom I'm...

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