Understanding Hyperemesis Gravidarum (It’s Not Just Morning Sickness)

When newspaper articles mentioned in passing that the Duchess of Cambridge (Princess Kate) suffered from Hyperemesis Gravidarum, they described it only as “severe morning sickness”. If all you see are pictures of smiling royalty with perfect hair (seriously… high heels on the hospital steps days after giving birth? No thank you), that description might be easy to believe.

But if you have ever suffered from Hyperemesis Gravidarum, you know that calling it “severe morning sickness” is a bit like describing a coma as a “severe nap”. 

I haven’t had it personally but one of my sisters had it with both of her kids, and I remember her sincerely desiring to be put out of her misery. This was more than severe morning sickness. It was all-day-long nausea and vomiting, inhibited ability to function, weight loss, and multiple hospitalizations for dehydration.

Hyperemesis is just no joke. Those poor blessed souls who go through it may even bristle at references to “that pregnancy glow” because for some women, there’s just nothing pleasant about pregnancy.

So why do we need to know about HG? 

Well, I’d love to provide some options for reducing the symptoms to those mamas who have it or know they’re susceptible to it. But I think it’s equally important to shed some light on it so that those people around an HG-suffering mama can be understanding and supportive and know how to help. Because if your friend is having “real bad morning sickness,” chances are you’ll think something like, “oh, that’s too bad, I hope it passes soon.” But if you really understand what’s going on with this condition, you could be the only person who knows just how much support and help your loved one needs.

Symptoms of HG

We all know that most pregnant women experience some type of morning sickness. During the first trimester, this can even be an encouraging sign to let us know everything is still okay. HG is a little different. According to Americanpregnancy.org, HG sufferers usually start to experience symptoms around 4 – 6 weeks in, and they last until 14 or 20 weeks, although some people may have symptoms for the entire pregnancy (blech).

Regular morning sickness involves nausea, which may or may not lead to vomiting, and usually lets up pretty soon after 12 weeks of pregnancy. The vomiting involved is not usually severe (it doesn’t put you dangerously at risk for dehydration, and you can usually keep food down).

Hyperemesis, on the other hand, involves nausea accompanied by severe, extremely frequent vomiting, that doesn’t go away, and can lead to acute dehydration (I’m talking like… you need to go to the hospital and get an IV hooked up levels of dehydration). It’s very difficult during these symptoms to keep any food down, so while you should be gaining a healthy amount of weight as your pregnancy progresses, you could end up actually losing weight. Other symptoms include:

Pregnant woman on bedrest, hypermesis gravidarum, nausea
  • Food aversions (my sister had an aversion to her entire kitchen. We had to keep the door shut as often as possible)
  • Decrease in urination
  • Headaches
  • Confusion
  • Fainting
  • Jaundice (that’s BAD news y’all)
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Low blood pressure
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Loose skin
  • Anxiety or depression

So if you haven’t heard about this condition before now, you might see why saying Kate had “severe morning sickness” is a bit of an understatement. Imagine having all this and having the entire country (plus some other countries) obsessed with your every move. Eek.

There’s a lot more information available about risk factors and what causes this condition, but that’s not precisely the focus of this post, so check that out if you’re interested.

How HG is Treated

If you’re treated in a hospital or by a doctor for HG, it could include intravenous fluids, a variety of medications, or a couple unpleasant sounding treatments for replenishing your nutrients, like passing a tube through your nose or surgically through your abdomen.

I know. Not cool. But it may be necessary. If you don’t need hospitalization, you can try to relieve symptoms with things like bed rest, ginger and peppermind (nature’s anti-nausea remedies), and, according to AmericanPregnancy.org, acupressure (finding the pressure point that relieves nausea, which is purportedly three finger lengths from the crease of your wrist and between the two tendons. The website says to find this point and press it for 3 minutes on each wrist, one at a time).

Healthline also recommends eating smaller, frequent meals that include dry foods like crackers, and making sure to drink plenty of fluids.

Please note that I am NOT a medical professional, and I am NOT recommending that you self-diagnose or treat yourself with home remedies. HG can be dangerous, and you should talk to your healthcare professional for a treatment plan. 

Loving Your HG-Suffering Friends and Family Members

This is the most important part to me. HG is not just bad morning sickness. It can be debilitating. Miriam Phillips, who’s suffered from it twice, wrote for The Guardian that it is “a horrendous, gruelling, protracted condition that leaves the people who suffer from it in a horrid state.” Your friends and family who are going through it need more than your sympathy and some ginger beer (although both would probably be nice!)

Here are a few things you can do for someone you love who is experiencing HG:

  • Find out how you can help them around the house. When you’re vomiting dozens of times every day and can’t abide the smell of your kitchen, you need help with normal things.
  • If she already has kids, step in and offer to help when things are bad: babysit, prepare meals, come over and help get the kids to bed, offer rides to and from school… whatever you can do to take some of the work of caring for the born kids off her hands. I’m not saying you’re responsible for doing everything, I know you have your own life and family demands. Just try to put yourself in her shoes and make time to do for her what you would want someone to do for you in the same situation.
  • Check on her emotional state. There comes a point where just the thought of vomiting again is enough to trigger despair. Bed rest can lead to depression. Not knowing how much longer these symptoms will last can cause serious fear and emotional distress. Love on her and encourage her. Read to her or watch tv with her, or whatever makes her feel a little less alone.
  • DON’T JUDGE. Listen, I’m as holistic and non-toxic as the next girl, but sometimes medication is necessary. If someone you know is on medication for her HG, trust that she’s making the best choice she knows how to make for herself and her little one. Chances are she’s weighed the options and decided that the danger of not medicating is higher than any possible side effects. Regardless, what she needs from you is supportive friendship and love. There’s a time for advice, and there’s a time to withhold it — and maybe even help throw that packaged, processed mac and cheese on the stove for the kids.  

If you or someone you know has had this condition, I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions. What helped you (or would have helped you) get through it?

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