Learn English – Does “morning sickness” only relate to pregnancy? Did it always


As far as I'm aware, "morning sickness" as a phrase relates specifically to pregnancy. So, even if you have a medical condition causing regular nausea/vomiting when you wake up and you typically wake up in the morning, "morning sickness" would not apply.

Is this accurate? If so, has it always been so (for reasonable values of "always") or does the phrase as we use it now have a more interesting etymology?

Best Answer

Although morning sickness refers almost exclusively to a symptom of pregnancy, it hasn't always been that way. It seemed like a descriptive phrase that combined the physical distress with the timing of the symptom.

In 1846, The Common School Journal, Volume 8 mentioned morning sickness from the excessive use of tobacco:

He complained of insufferable faintness and distress of stomach, morning sickness, vomiting, trembling, and prostration of strength. He diminished his tobacco considerably, and was immediately 'better, but had not resolution to abandon the pernicious practice.

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In 1848, Symptomen-codex referred to menstrual morning sickness:

Morning-sickness during the menses, with weakness and trembling in the day-tima. Pain in the epigastrinm during the menses, as if every thing would be torn to pieces.

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In 1857, Homœopathic Domestic Medicine, mentions morning sickness of drunkards:

Morning Sickness of Drunkards.

ACIDUM SULPHURICUM——This medicine is of great service against the morning sickness of those who have been inveterately addicted to excess in the use of ardent liquors, or to what may be termed as habitual drunkenness.

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By 1861, the morning sickness of pregnancy was identified by physicians as a unique condition in need of unique treatment. After the 1868 publication of On Chronic Alcoholic Intoxication, which listed morning sickness as a symptom of chronic alcohol intoxication, the only written reference to morning sickness was in the context of pregnancy.

Currently, WebMD, defines morning sickness:

Morning sickness refers to nausea and vomiting that commonly occur during pregnancy. The term "morning sickness" can be misleading, however, since pregnant women may have these symptoms at any time of the day.

Morning sickness is also a symptom of pseudocyesis:

False pregnancy, clinically termed pseudocyesis, is the belief that you are expecting a baby when you are not really carrying a child. People with pseudocyesis have many, if not all, symptoms of pregnancy -- with the exception of an actual fetus.

Of medical conditions listed on WebMD, only pregnancy and false pregnancy currently contain the phrase morning sickness as a symptom. In diagnoses other than pregnancy, the symptoms of the condition are generally identified more precisely as nausea, vomiting, abdominal (belly) cramps, diarrhea, bloating, fever, etc.

Wikipedia confers with the medical opinion:

Morning sickness, also called nausea and vomiting of pregnancy (NVP), nausea gravidarum, emesis gravidarum, and pregnancy sickness, is a pregnancy discomfort that affects more than half of all pregnant women.


Informal communication may still use morning sickness to describe the distress of nausea in the morning, following an evening of drunken excess, but the formal meaning of morning sickness is a symptom of pregnancy.