In all my adult years, I’ve never weighed less than I did during my first trimester of my last pregnancy. And let me tell you, there is nothing celebratory about watching the numbers on the scale drop just as they should be going in the opposite direction.
At seven weeks, I was diagnosed with Hypermesis Gravidarum (HG)—a form of severe morning sickness that requires medical intervention. While pregnant women are certainly no strangers to nausea and vomiting, HG comes with a host of potentially serious complications for both mom and her fetus if left unchecked.
“HG is no ordinary morning sickness,” said Rebecca Helie, MSN, APRN-CNM, a Certified Nurse Midwife. “Women with HG often encounter problems with low blood pressure, dangerous electrolyte imbalances, and sometimes even thyroid and liver problems. [They] may be unable to work, perform household duties, maintain relationships, parent, or interact socially. It comes as no surprise that women with HG are at increased risk for depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Helie added that continuing to lose weight throughout pregnancy may also result in restricted growth for baby and possibly even pre-term labor. However, she offered reassuring words: “If treated appropriately, [HG] is unlikely to have any adverse effect on your baby,” she said.
When to Call Your Healthcare Provider
If you find yourself struggling to keep food and liquids down, please put a call into your health care provider right away. They will want to monitor you closely for signs of dehydration and may send you to the hospital for IV fluids, anti-nausea medications, vitamins, and, depending on the severity of your symptoms, even steroids.
Suffering from HG can leave anyone feeling pretty hopeless. But there are plenty of treatment options available to help you find relief. For her patients at UCONN Health, Dr. Shontreal Cooper, MD MPH, a Maternal Fetal Medicine physician, likes to start with a simple lifestyle switch.
“I usually recommend that my patients eat five small meals each day, regardless if they have an appetite. This can include breakfast, lunch, dinner, and two small snacks,” she said. Cooper also advises women struggling with HG to take a hard look at the foods on their plate, considering embracing a bland, low-fat diet to help quell nausea and vomiting.
If these measures fail and vomiting persists, Dr. Cooper said a hospital visit is in order to prevent dehydration and protect you and your growing baby.
Natural Remedies to Supplement Treatment at Home
“Women with persistent nausea and vomiting should be evaluated by their clinician or emergency department to assess their fluid volume, examine electrolytes, give IV hydration as needed, and make sure there are no other causes for HG,” said Board Certified OBGYN, Dr. Sheila Loanzon.
Once you and your provider have a treatment in place, there are simple, natural ways to supplement your plan at home. Dr. Loanzon offered the following tips:
- Avoid an empty stomach, which can aggravate nausea.
- Eat slowly so as to avoid an overly full feeling, which can also trigger nausea.
- Steer clear of coffee and spicy, high-fat, acidic foods.
- Switch to taking prenatal vitamins at night if your vomiting is triggered by morning medications.
- Incorporate nausea-fighting ginger into your diet through ginger ale, chews, or tea.
- Ask your health care provider about taking a vitamin B6 supplement, which may offer some relief.
- “Sip liquids that are ‘clear, cold, and carbonated,’” said Dr. Loanzon. “These have a tendency to be gentler on the stomach for digestion and can help with nausea and vomiting symptoms during pregnancy.”
- Avoid marijuana. Dr. Loanzon sees a troubling trend in pregnant women desperate to shake morning sickness and HG: looking to pot to solve their problems. She echoes The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, urging moms-to-be to find other methods of relief. She warned there are too many concerns about the risks of fetal safety with marijuana use.
The Emotional Toll
The physical effects of HG are undeniable—and undeniably unpleasant. But constantly curling around the toilet bowl can have a real impact on your mental health as well. Dr. Cooper urges any mom-to-be struggling through HG to tend to her mind as much as she does her body. It is critically important, she says, for health care providers to monitor these women for anxiety and depression. Your provider may assemble a team to help you through this moment in your road to motherhood, calling in a dietician, therapist, maternal fetal medicine specialist, or psychiatrist. Sometimes, Dr. Cooper advised, a supportive team is just what a mom needs to protect her mind, body, and spirit.
The bottom line? Severe morning sickness is a tough battle to wage, and you should absolutely not go it alone. Get help, get better, and get back to prepping for that beautiful baby!