This post was written by Lauren Utter, a ProDoula trained Birth and Postpartum Doula with Gold Coast Doulas.
Finding out you are pregnant can bring an array of emotions – planned pregnancy or not. Maybe you’re excited because you have been waiting for this day. Maybe you are surprised because a baby wasn’t on your radar. Maybe you’re fearful – of what your pregnancy will be like, how you will look, if the baby is going to be okay, or how you’ll feel.
All of these feelings are normal. Being pregnant causes your body to change. Not just a growing belly, but new hormones, cravings, thoughts, and illnesses. 70-80% of women suffer from morning sickness. At least 60,000 cases of extreme morning sickness, also known as Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG), are reported (the number of cases is actually higher as many are treated at home). Perhaps you wonder if this is how all pregnant women feel or is it just you? Or maybe you question your ability to handle nausea and pain. Do you feel as though others minimize how you are actually feeling- giving you tips that you have relentlessly tried?
Morning sickness is difficult to deal with; it’s exhausting and frustrating, but there are many differences between HG and morning sickness. Women with HG lose 5% or more of pre-pregnancy weight. Morning sickness doesn’t typically interfere with your ability to eat or drink, whereas HG often causes dehydration from the inability to consume food or drinks. Morning sickness is most common during the first trimester, while HG lasts longer – sometimes through the whole pregnancy. A woman with HG is more likely to need medical care to combat symptoms.
HG is often described as debilitating, making everyday activities like working, walking, cooking, eating, or caring for older children hard to do. Not only are women having difficulties eating and drinking, but taking their prenatal vitamins is often difficult, too, which results in a lack of proper nutrition. Because of severe dehydration and insufficient nutrients, headaches, dizziness, some fainting, and decreased urination can present as greater symptoms of HG.
On top of all the physical signs of HG, secondary depression and anxiety may also be present. There are potential complications that arise when HG is present. We talked about malnutrition and dehydration, but some others include neurological disorders, gastrointestinal damage, hypoglycemia, acute renal failure, and coagulopathy (excessive bleeding and bruising). Fortunately, with effective treatment these complications can be managed or even avoided completely.
While there is no cure for Hyperemesis Gravidarum, there is a variety of treatments including medications and vitamins, therapies (nutritional, physical, infusion), bed rest, alternative medicine, chiropractic care, massages, and more. Not all women and cases respond to treatments in the same way. Caregivers typically believe early intervention, even prevention, is most effective.
Medical providers work with each woman to discuss which treatments work best for them. Common medications offered to women suffering from HG are antihistamines, antireflux, and metoclopramide. Because HG can be traumatic and highly stressful, 20% of mothers experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Perinatal Mood and Anxiety Disorders (PMADs). Early intervention proves to be effective, and your OB/GYN, primary care doctor, or a mental health specialist are fantastic resources for mothers experiencing symptoms of any mood disorder. Along with medical professionals there are many forms of support and resources. There are several Facebook groups of women who are suffering or have suffered from HG. This is a great way to feel supported by knowing you are not alone.
The website Hyperemesis.org is equipped with resources, facts, and blogs from other sufferers and their organization, HelpHer, are leaders in research for HG. The HER Foundation puts on events throughout each year for women and their families to come together.
Another great support system is hiring a doula. Doulas offer support through pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. Through pregnancy we can be there for bed rest support, informational, and emotional support. We provide you with evidence-based resources, and factual information. With this information, women suffering from HG can self-advocate for proper testing and treatment that best suits their pregnancy journey. During the postpartum time, not only do doulas help with infant and family care, but doulas are trained to notice signs of PMADs and will provide you resources that can assist you through recovery.
Doulas want to see you be successful, confident, comfortable, and healthy. I know I can’t be the only one who pushes aside her feelings, physical and emotional, and says “Oh, I’m fine” or “It’s nothing.” Our bodies are designed to “tell” us when something is wrong. Here is a tip: start logging your symptoms, from a single headache to daily nausea and vomiting. This will help your medical provider reach answers. Trust your body and trust your intuition, strive for testing that you believe is necessary, and find your people.