Pregnancy

Sickness and hyperemesis

Nausea and vomiting are common in pregnancy, especially in the first three months. Up to half of all women may be affected. This is traditionally called 'morning sickness', but although some people do have it mainly in the morning, it can also happen at any time of day, and sometimes all day long (see Interview 31 and Interview 34 below).

Some people experience sickness only once or twice or not at all. Some people feel sick but never actually vomit, but as one mother pointed out feeling sick all day is miserable enough. Frequent vomiting experienced by some people is not only very unpleasant but makes it very difficult to work and look after other children.

Because vomiting happens very early in pregnancy, it comes at a time when many friends and colleagues may not know about the pregnancy. Some people had to tell work colleagues what was happening, but others preferred to struggle on and keep the pregnancy quiet (see Interview 31 above).

Various things can make sickness worse, including cooking and other strong smells, cleaning your teeth (see Interview 32 above), or getting too hungry. Some people found eating little and often helped to stop hunger turning into nausea. Women are often advised to try dry biscuits, toast or ginger, although several said nothing really worked for them. One woman had tried a special music tape supposed to reduce dizziness and sickness by acting on the inner ear but it had no effect.

In most women sickness improves in the second trimester, but in some people it goes on for several months. In a few cases - 1-2% of women - vomiting becomes so severe and prolonged that it can require medical treatment or even hospitalisation. This condition is called hyperemesis or hyperemesis gravidarum (extreme vomiting in pregnant women). Women may be given anti-emetic drugs, antacids such as ranitidine, and fluids to prevent dehydration. Fluids may be given by intravenous drip if the woman cannot keep any fluids down. (Pregnant women should only use medicines when a doctor advise it). One woman's sickness made her resent being pregnant so much that she originally planned not to get pregnant again. Being diabetic may have increased her risk of hyperemesis.

Control of diet is important in conditions such as diabetes, and of course sickness can make this difficult. A mother with epilepsy explained that her attacks could be triggered by hunger, so any sickness had to be monitored closely. As it turned out, the drugs she had to take for epilepsy also had an anti-emetic effect, and she did not feel sick at all.

The notion that sickness in pregnancy has a mainly psychological cause is wrong, and one woman with hyperemesis strongly objected to it. Another thought professionals never quite understood how bad the sickness was, and was left feeling it was just something she had to put up with.

People often worry that the baby will not get enough nourishment if they are very sick, but the evidence suggests babies still manage to get all the nourishment they need from the mother's body. Some mothers were amazed that their baby's birthweight was normal.



For more information and support on hyperemesis see Pregnancy Sickness Support.

Last reviewed August 2012.
Last updated August 2010.

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