As much as pregnancy should be a special time for celebrating the miraculous growth of a brand new human being, severe sickness can mar the whole experience. For some, it can be so bad that it prevents them from ever having another child.
People have often said that morning sickness is the sign of a healthy pregnancy and now an article published in the Journal of Molecular Endocrinology by Professor Philip Lowry and Dr Russell Woods from the University of Reading, suggests that it's no old wives tale. Prof Lowry hopes that his article will provide "psychological relief to pregnant women suffering from morning sickness."
He explains that a hormone called endokinin, responsible for good blood flow to the organs - including the placenta - also acts on the brain to induce nausea and vomiting.
I would just like to note here that I am currently six months' pregnant with my third child and while I suffer from debilitating tiredness (extreme fatigue that leaves me almost face-planting on my computer), I have never suffered from proper morning sickness. I therefore think it's important to say that no morning sickness is absoutely fine too and that I have two extremely healthy children. I do remember panicking with Bella, my first, that no sickness meant the pregnancy wasn't right but the doctor just said 'That's totally normal too,' and laughed 'Lucky you.' During the first 12 weeks of all my pregnancies, however, I have had a gnawing hunger that comes upon me so aggressively I feel like I’m about to vomit out of the blue. I’m certain this is nature’s way of reminding me (somewhat forcefully) to eat and the only way of sorting it out is to shove something down the hatch. As a result, I never leave the house without some form of health bar or fruit in the bottom of my bag.
However, I can’t imagine what it’s like to cope with severe morning sickness or Hyperemis Gravidarum - as the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton is currently with her third child - when you may have a full-time job and other children to look after. So what's the difference between morning sickness and HG?
Morning sickness is a misleading term, as for many pregnant women, it can strike any time of the day or night. It is thought to be linked to the hormone hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), which rises rapidly in early pregnancy, as well as increased levels of oestrogen. It normally kicks in at about six weeks and lasts until about 12 weeks. For a small number of women, it can carry on into the second and sometimes third trimesters. Symptoms are a low-lying continual queasiness, right though to full-blown vomiting.
If you don’t have morning sickness it doesn’t mean your pregnancy isn’t a normal one (I have never experienced morning sickness as I mentioned above and have two very healthy children).
Hyperemisis Gravidarum is a vomiting illness during pregnancy and it’s absolutely debilitating. In fact, for many people who’ve had it, it angers them that it’s even in the same bracket as morning sickness.
HG is unrelenting and sudden sickness. It is said to affect one per cent of pregnant women and it can be so bad that many women who have it become hospitalised and need to be put on a drip. Many women who have it lose weight. For many, it comes and goes during the nine months of pregnancy but for others, it lasts until the minute they give birth. There are many theories as to why it happens from hormonal imbalances to vitamin B deficiency and hyperthyroidism but unfortunately, none are definitive.
For anyone who’s ever said the Duchess of Cambridge ‘isn’t sick, she’s just pregnant,’ or thinks she should ‘get over it, it’s just morning sickness’ needs to read the below accounts from sufferers.
Grace Timothy, a writer, suffered from Hyperemisis Gravidarum
“I was nearly five weeks when I found out I was pregnant. Suddenly the sickness started and it overwhelmed every part of my anatomy – from my toes to my head – all day and night. It was so bad I could barely move and I had to stay super still for fear of throwing up. We went in for a scan as I thought that maybe I was having twins (I wasn’t) but my ketones were 9 to 10 which the doctors said was extremely high. The nurse said I needed to go in and be on a drip as the sickness was constant and it would take me about 10 minutes to swallow a teaspoon of water. The drip took the edge off the sickness, it was a godsend, but I was still so sick, I couldn’t eat, get out of bed or walk. They prescribed Cyclezine which is the drug they give you to try to quell the sickness but I was so worried about taking it. We’re told a Nurofen might harm our unborn baby so what was this going to do? In the end, I took it but it took a while to work. In two weeks, I was snacking again.
"Obviously, I had to take time off work. I went to my mum's and I stayed in bed for two months. They tried to feed me anything and everything from burgers to healthy food but the thought of fruit and veg was horrendous. Obviously, I was very panicked that if I wasn’t nourishing myself I wasn’t nourishing my baby and it really affected my mood.
"By 12 weeks I was eating dry crackers and dry toast again and I went to work at Glamour magazine and I was fine for three months, during which I ate normally. Towards the end of the nine months I was commuting from Brighton and the sickness started to come back again but thankfully it wasn’t as bad as before. The moment my daughter was born however I went straight back to feeling normal and thankfully she’s a very healthy and happy child.”
Grace's coping strategy: “I would love to say there was but my HG was so bad there was little that made me feel better. I had a little cracker by my bed and I would eat it at 6am when I woke up. I did also find I could stomach Waitrose Lemonade ice lollies! There was something about them being cold, tart and sweet that worked.”
Follow Grace on Instagram here
Michelle Kennedy, founder and CEO of the Peanut app, which connects mothers, suffered from Hyperemisis Gravidarum
“I started suffering with HG at around five weeks pregnant, and it was horrendous because I couldn’t keep anything down and I was just retching all the time. The thought of food was awful and I started losing weight and I feared I was harming my baby. I felt so awful, I would dream about lying on a cold floor with my face on the cold tiles. As it’s my first child though, I just thought that’s what morning sickness was or that maybe I had a low tolerance threshold and it took a doctor to tell me it wasn’t right. The hardest part for me, however, was being forced to tell people that I was pregnant very early on. I’m very superstitious and I had to tell my work at seven weeks and it was an environment where I didn’t really feel like I could take time off (although I did a bit).
"The retching, heaving and the constant taste of bile just wouldn’t go, and I would also get extremely travel sick the minute I got in a car or vehicle (something I’ve retained ever since). I was offered medication by the doctor but I didn’t take it as I was frightened. There wasn’t much I could eat and nothing really seemed to make it any better and even water seemed to make it worse which terrified me that I was dehydrating.
"It did have an effect on my mood too – I felt constantly anxious and stressed, but it did seem to calm at about 20 weeks. Reassuringly when Finlay was born he was a 10lb baby. My advice is to remember that it does go.”
Michelle’s coping strategy: “I became queen of Uncle Ben’s white rice sachets which I took with me everywhere as I couldn’t eat much else. I also added squash to water - there was something about the sweetness that made it palatable.”
Find Peanut, an app that connects and ‘matches’ like minded mothers at https://www.peanut-app.io/
Gemma Bellman, MD of Get The Gloss, suffered from acute morning sickness
“I think my morning sickness was on a scale somewhere in the middle – it wasn’t debilitating but I definitely found it challenging. Some people report just feeling nauseous occasionally but mine was pretty constant from about five or six weeks to 16 weeks. Usually, I would be sick first thing in the morning but also at about 11 am and then often in the evening – many times I would have to run to my front door on my way home from work.
"It would come over me within about 60 seconds of waking up - as soon as my eyes would open my stomach churned. The best thing was to eat something very quickly when I woke up and my secret weapon was dry brown toast. Eating something definitely helped a bit with the queasiness so generally throughout the day I would carry a stash of biscuits with me.
"I would need to carry a sick bag on the tube with me (be warned most bags have a hole in the bottom!) and once I had to get an Uber to pull over whilst I threw up on the side of the road. The sickness was so immediate as it would come on so fast - if I was waiting in a queue and it came on I would have to leave the queue. The result of all this is that I constantly felt very empty and weak but I have to say, there were two or three days among all this when I wasn’t sick and it freaked me out that something was wrong! ”
Gemma’s coping strategy: “Brown toast first thing in the morning (I mean first thing). I couldn’t stomach water but the one thing I could stomach seemed to be San Pellegrino’s Limonata drink which I had lined up on my desk. I carried a stash of plain digestives, Rich Tea biscuits and Mini Cheddars with me wherever I went and salt and vinegar crisps saved my life on a few occasions too.”
Mercedes Sieff, co-founder of Yeotown health retreat and Yeotown Kitchen cafe in London, yoga teacher, positive psychology coach had Hyperemisis Gravidarum
“I had HG with both of my pregnancies and I was in hospital both times. It started at around seven weeks and I remember the doctor saying it would last until about 12 weeks. I was horrified as I thought I couldn’t cope another week! It wasn’t just morning sickness, it was all the time. I couldn’t keep water down and as a result, I was incredibly dehydrated. The doctor told me too that because of my fitness levels and my stronger stomach muscles, being sick could be very violent and it definitely felt like it.
"In hospital, I was put on an IV drip and I thought something was really really wrong. I was offered drugs but I started Googling them and I was too scared to take them. I tried all the regular things like ginger tea but nothing worked very well – it was very all-consuming. I decided to be pretty vigilant about it though - I learnt to snack very slightly and I slept with ginger biscuits by my bed.
"I was in such a bad place but somehow I decided that if I carried on moving I would be OK and so I carried on teaching yoga when I was out of hospital. Thankfully it began to taper off when I neared 12 weeks. Then, when I was pregnant with my second child, I was waiting for the symptoms and sure enough, it came at about seven weeks just as badly as before."
Mercedes’ coping strategy: “Someone asked me if I’d tried those gummy worm sweets – the fizzy ones. And you know what? They worked! I would never normally eat them but there was something about their tartness that would help the nausea dissipate.”
If you are suffering from HG or severe morning sickness, then this website has been set up to help: www.pregnancysicknesssupport.org.uk.