Hyperemesis Gravidarum (severe morning sickness)

Hyperemesis Gravidarum

Many women experience morning sickness (or all day sickness!) during pregnancy. For a small group of expectant mothers, however, the nausea and vomiting is more extreme and highly debilitating.

Understanding hyperemesis gravidarum (HG)

Known as hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), the condition of extreme morning sickness can be both physically and emotionally challenging. It affects around one to three per cent of pregnancies. For some women, symptoms of bad morning sickness resolve during the second trimester. Others, however, experience HG up until delivery.

HG in pregnancy is real, and can have a significant impact on a woman’s quality of life.

As well as coping with the physical affects of HG in pregnancy, women are often unable to work or care for older children and can require hospitalisation for treatment of severe dehydration. For some women, hyperemesis gravidarum can be so severe they choose to terminate their pregnancy.

I threw up violently and felt sick mostly every day of my pregnancy. Hyperemesis is real and it’s awful.”

Amy Schumer

Hyperemesis gravidarum and perinatal mental health

Research has found that having severe morning sickness increases the risk of depression both during and after pregnancy. In fact, one study found that nearly half of women with HG in pregnancy suffered antenatal depression (depression during pregnancy). Nearly 30 per cent had postnatal depression. Some women also reported thoughts of self-harm.

It’s important to know that if you find yourself struggling emotionally as you battle hyperemesis gravidarum, you’re not alone. Many women describe feeling miserable that their pregnancy hasn’t been the way they expected it to be and worried about how they’ll cope with a new baby after nine months of ill-health and exhaustion.

As I laid in the hospital bed and looked down at my emaciated body, fighting the urge to vomit yet again, I kept thinking how this was all wrong. I wasn’t supposed to feel this way. My body wasn’t supposed to be reacting like this. This wasn’t the pregnancy experience portrayed by social media, apps, or articles, and it certainly wasn’t the pregnancy experience I had envisioned for myself.

Sofía Muñoz Abou-Jaoudé 

The need for greater awareness of HG in pregnancy

Research undertaken by COPE highlighted the debilitating impacts of HG in pregnancy, which were often not well understood by others.  This included family and friends of women themselves who experienced HG, as well as workplaces who were unaware of how to support a colleague or team member suffering with HG in the workplace.  This need for greater awareness and understanding of hyperemesis gravidarum also extended to health professionals.

These findings prompted the inclusion of the emotional and mental health impacts of HG in pregnancy as part of COPE’s #thetruth campaign.  Further information about the key research findings, people’s stories, and information for workplaces and health professionals looking to provide support for others can be found on #thetruth webpage.

View #thetruth about HG

How to cope with hyperemesis gravidarum

Tips from those who’ve been there

  • Find a doctor who will take your concerns seriously – and keep trying until you do. It’s not “just in your head!” and you are not “just lazy.” Discuss treatment options including medications that can help you manage the symptoms.
  • Join a support group on Facebook or an online forum. These can help you feel less alone and are useful for suggestions on how to manage the symptoms. (No ginger biscuits!)
  • It’s okay to feel both awful AND happy to be pregnant. If you haven’t experienced hyperemesis gravidarum it’s hard to understand how miserable it can be.
  • HG during pregnancy can have a significant impact on your partner as they can often feel helpless and are required to take on more work around the house/childcare. Make sure they have support too, and accept all offers of help from family and friends.
  • Try to be kind to yourself, take each day at a time, and know that this too shall pass! Holding your baby makes it all worthwhile.
  • Download the Ready to COPE app to receive support throughout your pregnancy.  This contains a special edition series for those suffering with hyperemesis. Developed in partnership with HG Australia, you will receive timely supportive advice to help you cope with the physical and emotional impacts of HG.

Download Ready to COPE app

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Ready to COPE app for mums, dads, partners for pregnancy and early parenthood

Finding support for hyperemesis gravidarum

While some women find chatting to mums who have experienced HG in pregnancy helpful (no one will tell you to try eating crackers!) others find that professional support during pregnancy is invaluable too. Support can also be useful for managing anxiety around subsequent pregnancies.

“I felt guilty… I felt guilty about work, I felt guilty towards my child, I felt guilty towards my husband… and I felt angry with myself: ‘why can’t I do this?’ It would have been very nice if I could have spoken to someone other than my direct family. It doesn’t have to be solved, but it helps to talk about how you can deal with it.”

There are supports available.  This includes clinical support to help you manage with the symptoms and impacts of living with HG, as well as peer support from others who have been there, truly empathise and share tops and strategies to help you cope.  You can find help on the eCOPE Directory using the search function below.