Nausea and Vomiting during Labor and Delivery

My best friend had one request of the universe when she went into labor, “Please don’t let me throw up on one of the nurses.” Of course, she did anyway. When telling me the story, however, she laughed it off, saying she barely cared at the time, and that the nurse didn’t even seem to notice. Apparently, this was not a rare occurrence in the labor and delivery room. Nausea and vomiting is just one of those things that the nurses expect to happen, and are fully prepared to handle it and move on with the tasks at hand. I tried to laugh along with her, but I was having trouble dealing with this. Wasn’t nausea and vomiting just adding insult to injury? Wasn’t a woman going through labor dealing with enough without having to add feeling sick to the whole experience?

Feelings of nausea and vomiting are common in pregnancy. Most women will experience at least some stomach upset throughout their pregnancies. While it is most common within the first trimester in the form of “morning sickness,” nausea and vomiting can actually persist throughout the entire pregnancy. Often these feelings are related to what a woman eats or smell aversions, though they can be chronic and seem to have no actual cause. When a woman goes into labor she is likely to begin experiencing these symptoms again.

Nausea and even some vomiting late in pregnancy could be an indication of the onset of labor. This could occur several hours up to a few days before actual labor begins. As labor progresses, it is common for these feelings to intensify. Generally nausea and even some vomiting occur during contractions and worsen as the woman progresses through the transition phase. Studies have indicated that the use of pain medications during the labor and delivery process, particularly certain types of epidural medication, dramatically increases the risk of suffering these sensations during the process. Not only can these feelings be very uncomfortable and unpleasant for the laboring mother, but they can also lead to serious consequences for both mother and baby. Nausea can distract the mother, making it difficult for her to focus on her contractions and encouraging her body through the process. If the mother is vomiting, she could quickly become dehydrated and weak, which can lead to dangerous consequences. Women are encouraged to eat ice chips and sip lightly carbonated drinks to help settle their stomachs. If necessary, intravenous medications can be administered to ease the nausea and vomiting.

Source: Booth, John, et al. Subarachnoid Meperidine (Pethidine) Causes Significant Nausea and Vomiting during Labor, Anesthesiology, August 2000, Volume 93, Issue 2, pp 418-421.