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?

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    Back when I actually had a job I can recall having "morning sickness" many mornings, especially if I'd only gotten to bed a few hours earlier after a hard night. – Hot Licks Mar 19 '15 at 17:30
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    There are actually half a dozen printed instances of he suffered from morning sickness, but I think they're all in contexts where there's a direct or indirect allusion to the normal pregnant female sense. – FumbleFingers Mar 19 '15 at 19:29
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    ...on the other hand, it seems vanishingly unlikely this 1859 usage intends any "pregnancy" connotations. – FumbleFingers Mar 19 '15 at 19:32

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.

Page 260

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.

Page 752

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.

Page 515

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.

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    I think I've seen that quote about pseudocyesis before, because I recognize the casual way that it refers to a fetus as a 'symptom of pregnancy' :) – KutuluMike Mar 19 '15 at 23:10

In the US, if you're not pregnant, you would definitely avoid "morning sickness," and say "I feel sick in the morning."


The accepted answer asserts, "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." The poster then notes an earliest citation from 1848, in which morning sickness arises in connection with a male patient's excessive use of tobacco.

This analysis is certainly plausible, but it leaves two issues uninvestigated: (1) when did morning sickness first appear in print in any context? and (2) when did it first appear in print specifically in connection with vomiting and other symptoms of turbulent distress related to pregnancy? I did some research in hopes of shedding some light on these questions.

Early newspaper database matches for 'morning sickness'

The Library of Congress's Chronicling America newspaper database yields matches for morning sickness going back to 1844. The earliest matches involve what might be termed patent medicines, starting with this one from the [Carrollton, Ohio] Carroll Free Press (July 12, 1844):

EASTMAN'S LIFE PRESERVING BALSAM, Is warranted a safe and speedy cure for all Bowel Complaints for adults or children, Diarrhœa, Dysentery, Bloody Flux, Cholera Morbus, Cholera Infantum, Nausea, Vomiting, Morning Sickness of Mothers, Cholic, Flatulency, Heartburn or Cardealgy, &c.,

The earliest match for morning sickness in an Elephind newspaper database search comes from an advertisement in the New York Daily Tribune (April 4, 1845) for a product that seems very similar to Eastman's Life Preserving Balsam though targeted more narrowly to expectant mothers:

THE MOTHER'S RELIEF has been thoroughly tested by many years' experience. Ladies expecting to become mothers may rest assured that it will always aid and assist in preparing them for the trials before them. It quiets all nervous affections, allays morning sickness, causes natural and sweet rest, equalizes the circulation of the blood, regulates the stomach and facilitates the birth without such excruciating pains as mothers expect. Many of our bet physicians use it in their practice.

The same advertisement ran for weeks in the [Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania] Columbia Democrat (between November 1845 and May 1846) and in the Sangamo [Springfield Illinois] Sangamo Journal (between April 1846 and August 1847).

After that run of 69 matches, however, the next newspaper match of any kind is from an advertisement for Humphreys' Specific Homeopathic Remedies," in the New York Daily Tribune (August 14, 1859):

No. X. DYSPEPSIA PILLS, For Weak Stomach, Liver Complaint, Heart Burn, Spitting up of Food, Flatulence, Coated Tongue, Bad Taste, Loss of Appetite, Costive Bowels, Bilious Complaints, Kidney Complaints, Sore Mouth of nursing women, Vomiting and Morning Sickness of pregnant females. &e. A multitude in every community suffer from these and kindred evils, against which the usual remedies at best only palliate, while in most cases they aggravate and even render them incurable. A trial even of a single Pill, in any of the above cases will satisfy the most incredulous of its great value.

The frequency with which the notion of "morning sickness" is explicitly tied to expectant mothers is interesting. This specificity seems to imply that readers had heard of competing forms of morning sickness that the advertiser did not want its product to be associated with.

Early book and journal matches for 'morning sickness'

In Google Books search results, the first two confirmed matches are from 1803 and 1817, and the first of these appears in a context very different from pregnancy. From a review of Gulielmi Heberden, Commentarii de Morborum Historid et Curatione in The Monthly Review (January 1803):

Dr. Heberden assigns one chapter to the discussion of the virtues of Bath-waters. ... He doubts whether these waters can remove the debility consequent on rheumatism, gout, or palsy ; and their principal efficacy consists, according to him, in curing the morning sickness and vomiting, the pains of the stomach, and other symptoms occasioned by hard drinking : but they accelerate the progress of scirrhous liver and dropsy. They relieve dyspeptic complaints in general : but, in hectic fever, in hypochondriacal and hysteric cases, they are injurious.

The second occurrence in the search results is from 1813, although subsequent searches for the wording used there turn up matches to earlier editions of the same work from as early as 1809. From John Burns, The Principles of Midwifery: Including the Diseases of Women and Children, fourth American edition, from the third London edition (1814, 1817):

Vomiting is a very frequent effect of pregnancy, and occasionally begins almost immediately after conception. Generally it takes place only in the morning, immediately after getting up, and hence it has been called the morning sickness, but in a few instances, it does not come on till the afternoon. It usually continues until the period of quickening, after which it decreases or goes off, but sometimes it remains during the whole of gestation.

The first London edition of this book, by John Burns alone, published in 1809, has much the same account of morning sickness and mentions the term on three other pages as well.

Of the seventeen confirmable unique matches for morning sickness (excluding later editions of Burns) that a Google Books search returns for the period 1822–1847, thirteen are explicitly pregnancy related (from 1822, 1826, 1828, 1831, 1831 (again), 1832, 1834, 1834 (again), 1834 (a third time), 1839, 1841, 1841 (again), and 1844); three are applied to situations clearly not involving pregnancy (from 1832 ["Millers (corn) are very much subjected to loss of appetite, morning sickness, and other symptoms of indigestion."], 1838 ["Following it {intoxication} were the morning sickness, thirst, tremors, and shame, which made the situation truly deplorable ; at last they would get sober."], and 1840 ["Some of his {renal disease} symptoms of late had improved, and his morning-sickness was quite gone ; but his loss of sight was so great, that he could neither read nor write."]; and one is too imprecisely used to say one way or the other (from 1840 [in a list of conditions calling for Nux Vomica].


For the period 1800–1846, we have 21 unique matches for morning sickness—16 explicitly related to pregnancy symptoms, 4 explicitly not, and 1 indeterminate. The preponderance of usage, even at this early period of recorded instances of the term, clearly favors the pregnancy symptom meaning. It is true that the earliest instance, from 1803, involves morning sickness as a reaction to "hard drinking." But six years later, in 1809, we have a doctor explaining why vomiting during pregnancy "has been called the morning sickness."

Although instances of morning sickness in contexts such as alcohol intoxication, flour inhalation, renal disease, and (later) excessive tobacco use were frequent enough to encourage writers who wanted to emphasize the pregnancy symptom to speak of "morning sickness of mothers" and "morning sickness of pregnant females," it is hard to find a time in the documented record when morning sickness was not more likely to refer to the pregnancy symptom than to anything else.

It would not surprise me if both intoxication-based morning sickness and pregnancy-based morning sickness were in common parlance colloquially going well back into the eighteenth century; but lacking any instances of such usage, we can only speculate about which one appeared earlier. It seems clear, however, that from 1809 onward morning sickness in the sense of a frequent symptom (and unpleasant aspect) of pregnancy dominates the print record.

Update (8/22/2017)

I recently checked thumbnail search results at the British Newspaper Archive (I'm not a subscriber to this archive and so do not have access to the complete newspaper pages in its database), and found many instances of an advertisement for Harvey's Restorative Cordial, published dozens of times between April and December 1836, and thereafter dozens of times until at least April 1842. The reconstructed advertisement seems to run as follows:

HARVEY’S RESTORATIVE CORDIAL. This inestimable Medicine stands unrivalled for its tonic virtues in all cases of nervous debility, loss of appetite, or weakness of the digestive organs. The generality of tonic medicines, while they strengthen, excite the system, but this invaluable compound allays irritability, and, without stimulating, invigorates the constitution, giving tone to the stomach, promoting a healthy digestion, bracing the nerves, elevating the spirits, and affording relief in the most distressing cases of debility, whether owing to long illness, intemperance, sedentary habits, or residence in warm climates. In the morning sickness of females it is exceedingly efficacious; and in the complaints of young females, its success has been most decided in giving health to the frame, and bloom to the cheek; it assists the growth, and prevents (in those predisposed) the development of consumption and scrofula. To the aged and infirm, it will impart energy and strength to the body, cheerfulness and serenity to the mind. In loss of appetite, spasms, cramp of stomach, nervous head-ache, and lassitude from any cause, it will afford immediate relief. All those debilitated by luxurious living, late hours, vexation, intense study, or confinement to business, will find this Cordial their best friend.

Given the astonishing array of maladies (including intemperance) that the cordial alleviates, it is noteworthy that only "the morning sickness of females" appears as a form of "morning sickness."


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