Hyperemesis Gravidarum, the severe form of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy, affects about 0.3%-3.6% of pregnant women and is characterised by dehydration, electrolyte imbalance and more than 5% prepregnancy weight loss.
Many women and birthing people find the seriousness of this condition is still not being paid enough attention and are often not being given access to appropriate anti-emetics due to the thalidomide tragedy with GPs unwilling to prescribe, instead they’re advised to have some ginger. This leaves many women bed bound for months, not being able to eat or drink which puts the lives of Mum and baby at risk.
The impact of HG on your physical and mental health
I didn’t know about Hyperemesis Gravidarum until I got it myself. If someone had told me about it before, I would have probably assumed it was just a bad form of morning sickness but I couldn’t have been more wrong. HG is more than nausea and sickness. It is associated with hyponatremia (low sodium which affects brain and kidneys), hypokalaemia (electrolyte abnormality which increases the incidence of cardiac arrhythmias), ketonuria, abnormal thyroid function and up to 40% of women with HG have abnormal liver tests.
Besides the guidance of medical obstetrics and nutritionists, a mental health team should be involved as well. Solely due to the fact you’re taken care of physically and mentally as HG robs everything away from you. The life you knew before will be gone. Things you took for granted, like drinking water or going out for a walk, will have become impossible and the dark wall of your bedroom will be your view for the remainder of your pregnancy.
I was lucky to have received great care but most women aren’t that lucky. Some have really bad nausea throughout their pregnancy but don’t receive treatment because they’re able to keep some food down completely ignoring the fact HG still has a massive impact on their life and they’re not able to work or go out. Some are denied medication altogether just because healthcare professionals are not comfortable prescribing, and some, are offered a termination.
Inequalities in maternity care
The pandemic has definitely had a major impact on maternity care, but especially for women with HG who were denied fluids, or weren’t getting seen, until problems with their liver or kidneys arose because of malnutrition.
There has been a 70.4% reduction in antenatal appointments and a 28.4% decline in obstetric appointments for women at higher risk of complications during the pandemic so far. If you combine these numbers with the recent report that came out addressing inequalities in maternal health among women living in communities of social disadvantage and ethnic diversity, the outlook for pregnant women suffering from pregnancy related complications becomes very poor.
Reocurrence of HG
It is also stated that if you have HG in a pregnancy, there is a 81% chance of having it again which makes it a real struggle to plan for another baby as you have to take different things into account, such as childcare, financial impact and more importantly: will you be able to do this again?
After my HG journey ended, I wanted to help people still suffering from HG so I started @hgandearlymotherhood on Instagram to keep women informed and give support where needed. I created a HG journal with worksheets so women could keep track of their food/liquid intake while answering questions each day that help you prepare for a life beyond HG. I have also co-written a HG book, Hyperemesis Gravidarum: a collection of HG stories, with Sarah Titmus that collected HG stories from women all over the world and is now available on Amazon and Apple Books.
Want to find out more?
If you want to find out more about perinatal anxiety and HG, please see Charlotte’s new documentary Hyperemesis & Perinatal Anxiety.