Is the “Morning Sickness Pill” Safe?

Thank you to Heartland Women's Group for sponsoring this post and providing excellence in healthcare for Wichita moms!

In the past two years, celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Emily Maynard Johnson posted on social media about a name-brand drug that they claim really helped their morning sickness. But this year, media outlets including CNN and NPR have reported that some in the medical profession question that drug’s efficacy.

What is the “morning sickness pill”?

Called Diclegis, this “morning sickness pill” is the only FDA-approved, Category A medicine on the market for Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy. While these celebrities are touting its benefits through modern social media, the drug itself, known generically as a combination of pyridoxine and doxylamine, has been around since the 1950s.

This drug is unequivocally safe and recommended by the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists (ACOG) as an effective treatment for Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy.

Is it safe?

What the media outlets reported is the controversy over a paper published this year suggesting that the original 1970s clinical trial findings used for the drug’s FDA approval were never published in a scientific journal and that there might have been flaws in that research.

In the late 1970s, there were numerous lawsuits filed against the manufacturer of Bendectin (Diclegis’ predecessor) suggesting that the drug caused birth defects. The cases were ultimately determined to be unfounded and, in fact, frivolous, but the outcome was disastrous. The manufacturer took the drug off the market, not because the drug was dangerous, but because its legal and liability insurance costs skyrocketed.

The absence of the combination drug pyridoxine-doxylamine likely contributed to the widespread use of less safe medications by many struggling mothers. Not till 2013 did the FDA approve the drug again and it was re-released in the United States under its current name.

The hullabaloo stems from the fact that up to 90 percent of women who are pregnant will experience some form of nausea and/or vomiting during pregnancy. We are not 100 percent sure what causes morning sickness, but it is likely caused by sensitivity to hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), the “pregnancy hormone.”

In spite of this medication’s effectiveness and minimal side effects, most OB/GYNs recommend conservative measures be initiated first, such as diet modifications and avoiding “triggers” that could possibly contribute to Nausea. Take prenatal vitamins with food, drink plenty of water, and don’t skip breakfast. Some OB/GYNs recommend acupressure wrist bands, which are safe and can be effective (though are not likely better than placebo).

Can it treat severe morning sickness (Hyperemesis Gravidarum)?

If vomiting is persistent and severe, weight loss can obviously occur, and if it exceeds five percent of pre-pregnancy body weight, OB/GYNs would label this Hyperemesis Gravidarum – something for which Diclegis is not approved and likely will not help. It is very important that you visit your OB/GYN due to risk for dehydration and electrolyte abnormalities that can present challenges to the mom’s heart and the developing baby. At that time, a doctor would also try to rule out a Molar Pregnancy. Although rare, it can be life-threatening and must be addressed immediately.

In spite of the ubiquitous nature of Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy, moms-to-be need not suffer. If you have any questions or concerns, reach out to your OB/GYN today, make an appointment, or call our office at (316) 858-7100.

** This blog post was written to serve as informational guidance about Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy and should not be taken as concrete medical advice, nor do the views above reflect the views of Heartland Women’s Group, the HealthONE organization, or Wichita Moms Blog. As with any medical questions or concerns, it’s imperative to make an appointment with your physician for proper counseling.


Dr. Damen Hershberger practices at Heartland Women’s Group and prides himself on being a dedicated, reassuring, and comforting physician that patients can count on. He is a clinical instructor at the University of Kansas School of Medicine, Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology. He is a daVinci-certified robotic surgeon and has lectured internationally on the subject of minimally invasive surgery. Dr. Hershberger and his wife are Wichita natives and have four children. Contact Heartland Women’s Group at (316) 858-7100 or visit the website.

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2 Responses to Is the “Morning Sickness Pill” Safe?

  1. Christine March 4, 2017 at 9:20 pm #

    Is ondansetron still a good med for nausea in pregnant women?

    • Christine March 4, 2017 at 9:31 pm #

      During my first pregnancy, I dropped from 142 to 122 before my first trimester was up. I never heard my doctor say HG, but I had to take Zofran (ondansetron) for all three pregnancies. I was still often nauseous, but the medicine kept me from throwing up.

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