I’m veering slightly off niche for this post, but after spending six months in an all-consuming fog of nausea and exhaustion it feels a bit weird for me not to say anything about it. I felt it was important for me to share the support, resources and perhaps a tiny bit of hope for anyone going through extreme pregnancy sickness – it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to go through and can be an extremely lonely place to be. Here are my tips on how to survive Hyperemesis Gravidarum.
A bit of background on me
At the end of May 2020 I discovered that I was pregnant with our third child. I’d suffered with nausea with our first daughter and Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) with our second daughter, both until around 17 weeks, so our decision-making to go for a third had taken into account the debilitating sickness I knew I was going to suffer from.
When pregnant with HG previously, I’d been signed off work for 9 weeks, constantly throwing up, unable to get out of bed, eat, drink or look after my eldest child – I was intensely ill twenty-four hours a day for a long three months. Information online was sparse and I really struggled through.
With time rose-tinting my unfavourable pregnancy memories, and keen for a third child, I spent months in advance of conceiving psyching myself up for the anticipated sickness. I tried to prepare by reading, listening to Hyperemesis podcasts, watching Youtube videos and googling the hell out of possible ways to ease, prevent, or survive Hyperemesis Gravidarum, the most hideous form of pregnancy sickness.
In my head I only had to make it through to 17 weeks of feeling ill , although with my third (a boy) it actually lasted until 32 weeks in total. While I did not discover a miracle cure (how nice would that be?), there were things I did to help me get through the HG that I thought I’d pass on in the hope it will help someone else.
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How to survive Hyperemesis Gravidarum
What is Hyperemesis Gravidarum?
Firstly, I’d like to make a case for doing away with the term ‘morning sickness’. Who created it? And why are we still using it to refer to pregnancy sickness, which, according to most women I’ve spoken to who have had it, is never EVER felt only in the morning. It completely undermines the constant gagging, inability to function, and constant feeling that you’re about to throw up. It is especially damaging to those with Hyperemesis, because many people – including those in the medical profession – don’t realise the two are not the same thing.
All people seem to know about HG is that it’s the reason the Duchess of Cambridge was hospitalised when she was pregnant. Amy Schumer later expanded on people’s awareness of it by documenting her pregnancy-long experience of it on social media. But unless you’ve been there and experienced it yourself, it’s hard to convey just how horrendous it is.
Put simply, it’s a complication of pregnancy that makes it an utterly debilitating and miserable experience for the lady in question. It makes you intensely nauseated and unable to keep down much food or liquid, standing up is a struggle and walking up stairs can be enough to finish you off. There’s plenty to worry about during the first trimester, without adding dehydration and nutrition on top.
Food aversions to almost everything are standard – even the scent of the oven metal warming up was enough to send me running for the toilet. I had to stay upstairs if my husband was cooking, and opening the fridge was one of the worst activities I could think of.
Add to that the fact there’s such a taboo about telling people you’re pregnant before 12 weeks (totally impossible for someone with extreme pregnancy sickness) and a considerable lack of understanding by society in general, it’s an incredibly lonely place to be.
In short, the pregnancy ‘glow’ and I are not well-acquainted.
What does Hyperemesis Gravidarum feel like?
Imagine the worst bout of food poisoning you’ve ever had, the worst hangover in history, added to the feeling of being sea sick, on top of the anxiety those first few weeks of pregnancy bring. Then imagine that for months on end. It’s kind of like that.
How to survive Hyperemesis Gravidarum – coping mechanisms
There are far more resources out there now than there were 4 years ago, when I last attempted to get myself through Hyperemesis, so I thought I’d put the ones I found useful here for anyone that might need them.
This blog is in no way meant to replace medical advice, but I did want to share some coping strategies that helped me. It’s important for me to say they didn’t always work every time and some things helped me better some weeks and not at all on others. There were many dark moments and it’s different for everyone, but just having things to try often gave me a bit of hope.
I was also never hospitalised, although I did come close, but this is a very real outcome for many women.
Contact Pregnancy Sickness Support
Pregnancy Sickness Support is a UK Charity Supporting women with pregnancy sickness and Hyperemesis Gravidarum. They offer research and resources for medical professionals, a helpline and live web chat, Whatsapp support, a 1-2-1 peer support network, medication options, an online support forum, coping strategies, eating advice, recovery advice and much more.
I found myself contacting them on particularly low days and they were extremely helpful and sympathetic.
They also run a podcast with advice on medication, HG issues and guest speakers.
Get medication from your doctor ASAP
If you’ve had Hyperemesis before, studies have been done on pre-emptive care and medication helping to reduce the severity and duration of the symptoms.
If it’s your first baby, know that not being able to keep down food and water is NOT normal and you should get help from a medical professional as soon as possible.
If the medication doesn’t do anything, or stops working after initially being efficient, keep going back until you find a combination/medication that does. For example, Cyclazine did nothing for me, then Prochlorperazine worked for several weeks, before I had to upgrade to Ondansetron. While these medications helped the vomiting, none of them did anything for the nausea unfortunately. I also found a sympathetic, understanding female doctor and made sure I spoke to her every time I called up the GP practice.
The Pregnancy Sickness Support website has some guidelines for doctors about HG, who maybe don’t know a lot about it or are reluctant to prescribe medication to pregnant women. You can print these out and take them with you to argue your case if necessary.
It is also worth talking to your doctor about being signed off work until you feel better.
Seek out a community of people who’ve experienced extreme pregnancy sickness. With over 4000 members who have all gone or are going through the same thing, this private group was a huge help to me during some dark times in my pregnancy. Whether it’s asking for advice, reading about other people’s experiences or just having a rant, expect endless support from other women.
If you have any friends who have been through it, be sure to get in contact with them if only for a sympathetic ear. As much as family and friends can be supportive and loving, nobody really understands unless they’ve been through it too.
Eat little and often
I know eating is the last thing on your mind when you’re feeling so terrible, but in my first pregnancy I made the mistake of not eating when I felt sick – because that’s what you do when you feel that awful and you’re not pregnant! However, I soon discovered that eating small bites actually helped ease the nausea slightly, so for a long time it was a case of force-feeding myself anything I thought I could face to try and stave it off. Sometimes I ate nothing but bread and butter for weeks, other times I could only manage plain crisps and oranges.
I found that eating ‘new’ things sometimes helped too as then I wouldn’t have the sickness association with them. Talking about food was an absolute no-no, I much preferred my husband (for example) to just make me something and present me with it and I’d eat what I could manage, rather than discussing any kind of menu options in advance!
Crackers and ginger tea DO NOT help (in fact that last one will stop you breathing when it comes back up) and I highly recommend refraining from punching anyone that suggests gingernuts or nibbling crackers (and there will be many people who seem to think this is an excellent treatment). Yes I’ve just thrown up a sip of water that took me three hours to get anywhere near my mouth, but please pass me a freaking ginger biscuit LOL.
Forget healthy eating
There are plenty of websites and Instagram accounts telling you what pregnant women should be eating and how many calories you should be consuming. I couldn’t look at a salad leaf or any green vegetable for WEEKS, so I found it was best to just ignore all the healthy eating advice and not feel guilty. The baby will take everything it needs from you, just eat what you can stomach. Go with every craving if it means you’ll get something down you. It’s the only way to survive Hyperemesis Gravidarum.
I had strong food aversions but could only manage oranges and McDonalds chips with lots of vinegar…until I couldn’t and then it would be Fanta, orange ice lollies (but only a specific variety from the Ice Cream Van) and cheese toasties only. Sometimes I’d wake up at 4am in the morning, eat some strawberries and then try and go back to sleep as soon as possible just to try and keep them in my stomach.
Plain kind of ‘toddler food’ was always what worked best for me, but of course it’s different for everyone. I also couldn’t stomach water at all and found sipping fizzy drinks seemed to be far easier to manage.
Avoid the standard Pregnacare vitamins
I know there’s all kinds of pregnancy multivitamins out there, the much-touted one being Pregnacare, but taking these gigantic pills actually made me feel worse (I’ve heard others say the same). If you can manage the gigantic pills, maybe try taking them before bed so you can just go to sleep straight after.
The other option is to get ones in liquid form that you can swallow without noticing too much.
I also read that Vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine) has been studied in the treatment of nausea and vomiting during pregnancy and reduced nausea and vomiting, so I tried to make sure I took this (although I can’t say I noticed a difference!)
Accept all offers of help
Particularly if you have other children. I mean, it should be a no-brainer, but inevitably, the weird and wonderful world of mama guilt can tend to step in and make accepting help that bit harder!
It became virtually impossible to parent my own children and with school and pre-schools shut or running at limited capacity due to coronavirus, I was so grateful for all offers of childcare aid that were offered to me. I basically fended my two daughters off to grandparents for the summer holidays, while I lay horizontal.
Take up all offers of play dates and remember it’s OK to rely on screen-aided childcare if needed.
Ha! Like you have a choice! I couldn’t stand up for longer than 5 minutes at the beginning, so I just succumbed and lay in bed as much as I could (quite hard with other children). Often the medication I was on would knock me out around 2pm, but at least if I was sleeping I wasn’t feeling sick…
I’m normally a pretty active person, but I could only really lie down for weeks on end and I really just had to give into this and get used to not trying to do too much every day as tiredness would make my symptoms worse. Leave the cleaning, shop online, hand over to your partner, order ready meals for the kids, just delegate as much as you can.
When I had to be on parental duty I’d try to instigate games that involved me lying down while the little ones played and of course, whacked on the ol’ TV for long movies where I could snooze alongside them.
It was much easier once the kids knew WHY mummy was feeling sick, although we only told them once we’d had the 12-week scan confirmed.
Do anything to try and take your mind off it
This sounds pretty impossible I know, but to try and stop myself going over and over in my head how awful I was feeling, I would watch Netflix or Youtube, or – if you can manage to look at a screen – I even downloaded some card games onto my phone, just for something to do while lying down that could loosely involve my brain without making me feel worse.
This is probably quite controversial and lots more studies need to be done on it with regards to pregnancy. However, when I was at a complete loss I turned to CBD. I’d seen that it had helped Amy Schumer to survive Hyperemesis Gravidarum during her pregnancy and so I gave it a go.
It definitely helped reduce the nausea for me. I think if you want to try this route, read around on the subject first as there is lots of conflicting advice. I got CBD supplies from HempElf and vaped it and my baby turned out fine!
Remember the end goal and that it will end
It’s very hard at the beginning when you’re not showing or feeling the baby kick, but try and keep in mind the end goal – a cute little bubsy at the end. And there WILL be an end. And it will be SO worth it.
Don’t beat yourself up
While I completely appreciate that I’m extremely lucky to be carrying my own little squidge, the months of extreme pregnancy sickness were some of the toughest and least enjoyable of my life. It’s ok to not love being pregnant, people don’t always talk about the downsides and it’s good to have a rant about it if needed!
This is probably something to start before you get pregnant (or after you’ve had your baby) as it’s quite tricky to stomach once the nausea has hit. However, having experienced HG in my second pregnancy, I found that I really struggled with gut issues about a year after giving birth and I’m convinced it had something to do with a 3-month diet of bread and being sick.
I invested in one of the best probiotics out there, Symprove (although one of the most expensive). It made me noticeably less ‘sick burpy’. After completing the 12-week course and getting to a stage where I can currently stomach liquids and bigger pills, I moved on to a kefir drink and these cheaper probiotics (recommended to me by a nutritionist).
Other resources on how to survive Hyperemesis Gravidarum:
Rachel Dewell, a nurse and a mother of 5 suffered with Hyperemesis Gravidarum multiple times and has made it her mission to help other women prevent another HG pregnancy and its related health issues. There are no guarantees here, but she flips over every rock she can find on ways to survive Hyperemesis Gravidarum.
I also tried acupuncture (didn’t work), wearing sea sickness bands (didn’t do anything), magnesium spray (nope, nothing), but I’ve heard other people swear by them.