How Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy May Impact Your Pelvic Floor (And Tips to Manage)

September 13, 2023


Oh, morning sickness: that infamous pregnancy symptom that can make expecting mothers feel totally lousy!

Unfortunately, nausea and vomiting impacts most pregnant women at some point, although the severity, duration, and frequency can vary a lot between individuals. While some women only report mild and short-lived symptoms, some women experience such severe nausea and vomiting that they are at risk for complications like dehydration or the inability to keep virtually any food down. (Fortunately, severe nausea and vomiting during pregnancy—known as hyperemesis gravidarum—is considered rare, affecting only about 3 percent of all pregnancies according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.)

The good news? Nausea and vomiting of pregnancy (sometimes called “morning sickness,” although it can occur at any time of day) don’t usually affect a growing baby, and there are safe options for relief. The not-so-good news? Being nauseous or vomiting a lot during pregnancy can impair a woman’s quality of life—and in some cases may even negatively impact her pelvic floor health, too!

The relationship between nausea and vomiting in pregnancy and pelvic floor health is something I rarely see talked about—and that’s a disservice to all moms, as far as I’m concerned. 

Keep reading to learn more.

How Nausea and Vomiting Can Affect Your Pelvic Floor While Pregnant

Our team at ITR Physical Therapy has worked with hundreds of pregnant women over the years. In that time, we’ve gained a lot of insight into how nausea and vomiting during pregnancy can impact a pregnant woman’s pelvic floor. Here are just a few things to consider:

  • When you vomit, the pressure inside your abdominal cavity increases in order to help your body expel stomach contents. But this normal function can also put increased pressure on your pelvic floor. If a pregnant woman vomits repeatedly, this may lead to excess strain on the pelvic floor muscles and may exacerbate symptoms of pelvic floor dysfunction, such as urinary incontinence or pain.
  • Vomiting also requires forceful contraction of the abdominal muscles. As a woman’s pregnancy progresses and her baby bump gets bigger, the position and alignment of her abdominal muscles will change, which could impact their function and further exacerbate pelvic floor and core problems.
  • Any forceful coughing, breath-holding, and bearing down associated with vomiting may also contribute to repeated and increased pelvic floor strain.
  • Pregnant women often avoid certain foods that they suspect make them nauseous. This can affect the amount of nutrients, fluids, and fiber they’re getting in their diet and may lead to digestive issues like constipation or diarrhea. Unfortunately, these digestive problems are also linked to pelvic floor dysfunction.

How to Protect Your Pelvic Floor When Dealing with Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy

If you’re pregnant and struggling with nausea and vomiting, be sure to let your OB/GYN or midwife know. They can help you explore the right treatment options for you, such as eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day or exploring different vitamins and supplements.

As for protecting your pelvic floor, here are some specific things we recommend for pregnant women dealing with morning sickness of any type:

  • To support healthy digestion, do your best to eat fiber-rich foods (fruits and veggies) and stay well-hydrated—ACOG advises pregnant women to drink between 8 and 12 cups (64 to 96 ounces) of water per day
  • Relax your jaw, take deep slow breaths, and lean forward whenever you’re having a bowel movement
  • When coughing or vomiting, try to hinge forward at your hips and keep your back in a neutral position, rather than bending or rounding your spine
  • If you can, try doing a gentle pelvic floor contraction and abdominal brace technique (gently tightening your abdominal muscles, you may want to think about “hugging your baby”) before coughing or vomiting—you can also apply gentle counter pressure by holding a pillow against your lower abdomen to help add to your abdominal brace, offering external support against your belly.

Are You Looking for Pregnancy and Postpartum Care Near Bethesda, MD or McLean, VA?

At ITR Physical Therapy, we consider it our privilege to serve pregnant and postpartum women from throughout the greater Washington D.C. community. Call 301-770-7060 now to schedule an appointment with a McLean or Bethesda pelvic floor physical therapist.

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