Many women experience a bit of nausea during pregnancy, especially during the last weeks of the first trimester. But for some mums-to-be, their nausea and vomiting are so bad that they can’t even get out of bed, and living a normal life is simply impossible. This condition is called Hyperemesis Gravidarum.
The main problem with hyperemesis is that not being able to eat or drink anything without vomiting, which can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance. The good news is that the baby is usually fine, and can put on weight even while mum is losing it.
Maternity Services Manager at Epworth Freemasons, Robyn Ackland, has been at Epworth’s Maternity unit for the last 15 years, and has another 15 years’ experience in midwifery and general nursing under her belt. She’s seen her fair share of sufferers.
“Some women can’t even lift their head off the pillow without vomiting,” Robyn says. And that’s the difference between run of the mill morning sickness and hyperemesis – how severe it is. Constant and chronic vomiting indicates hyperemesis. Feeling a bit off when you cook tonight’s dinner does not.
Women should consult their obstetrician or other caregiver if they are concerned about their nausea. “It’s always better to treat women before they get seriously dehydrated,” says Robyn.
Robyn has seen the way hyperemesis is treated change greatly over her years working in maternity units.
“We used to have women come into hospital for weeks at a time,” she remembers. Now, women are treated as day patients, being admitted for a few hours a day up to three times a week. They are given three to four litres of fluids and anti-emetic (anti-nausea) medicine.
Even the ways these drugs are administered have changed, now delivered intravenously or through wafers that dissolve under the tongue. Sometimes one admission is enough to treat the problem; other women need treatment over several weeks. At Epworth, women remain under the care of their obstetrician, with the maternity unit providing the prescribed treatment.
Robyn knows that women much prefer to be able to be at home rather than being stuck in a hospital ward, and only about one woman a year now requires admission for any length of time.
So, what should you do if you have serious nausea and vomiting during pregnancy?
First, it’s worth giving the tried and trusted home remedies a go. Ask your partner to bring you a cup of tea and some dry toast before you get up in the morning. Drinking ginger tea and eating kiwifruit are said to prevent nausea, and nibbling on a few salty biscuits or crisps can replace lost electrolytes. Acupuncture has worked for some women.
But if these measures don’t work, and you are vomiting frequently or notice signs of dehydration, contact your obstetrician or other practitioner.
“There’s no point in suffering when the condition can be managed so successfully,” Robyn says.
Signs of dehydration
• Dry mouth
• Dry, cracked lips
• Ketosis – a funny taste in the mouth
• Dark urine