De-bunking the Myths
Pretty much anything pregnancy related seems to generate the most unbelievable amount of myths and old wives tales. Some are so ingrained in our culture that they are considered norms and are perpetuated by health care professionals despite having absolutely no evidence or truth behind them.
Other myths prevail because they have a shadow of truth in them and these ones have a particular prevalence in hyperemesis care and advice. That's mainly due to the difference between "Morning Sickness" and Hyperemesis Gravidarum being misunderstood.
So lets look at some of the myths we hear, where they stem from and the truth about hyperemesis gravidarum.
Every one gets morning sickness, you just need to put up with it
Where it stems from: About 80% of pregnant women will suffer some degree of nausea and/or vomiting. For the vast majority of these it will be manageable and considered a mild irritation. Some may even enjoy the feeling of “morning sickness” as they feel reassured that the pregnancy is continuing and the baby is well. Some will have moderate to severe nausea and vomiting in pregnancy (NVP) and may feel really rough but still be able to function and get to work even though it's a struggle.
The truth about hyperemesis gravidarum: only 1-2% of pregnant women will get hyperemesis so it is not a “normal part of pregnancy”. It is not something that women can “just put up with” as it is utterly debilitating and without treatment could even be fatal. Far from feeling reassured by their pregnancy sickness, women with hyperemesis are often terrified by the severity of their symptoms, fearful not only for the well being of their baby but fearful for their own lives! “Putting up with it” and therefore not seeking help could lead to further complications and put mum and baby at risk.
It's all in your head, because you are anxious/depressed/don't want the baby/not thinking positively etc etc
Where it stems from: Historically there had never been suggestions of a psychological cause for severe pregnancy sickness. In fact, as the leading cause of death in early pregnancy it was probably taken very seriously. Until the start of the last century... so what happened then? Well two things happened. The first, great thing, was that Intravenous fluids were invented and anti-emetic medications were invented, which meant women stopped dying so often. The second, awful thing, was the growth of Freudian psychoanalytic theories. These suggested that women were subconsciously rejecting the foetus and making themselves sick. As a result, appalling treatments such as preventing access to bathrooms and vomit bowls where suggested. Women were prevented from seeing loved ones and deliberately left in isolation.
The truth about hyperemesis gravidarum: The condition is NOT psychological and thankfully this has been thoroughly proven with plenty of research. It does however have a profound psychological impact on the sufferer due to the prolonged, severe symptoms, extreme isolation, lack of understanding and support from others, the stress of financial burden and the constant fear of complications. The psychological impact is further compounded by the cruel suggestions that it is self induced.
You'll be better by 12 weeks
Where it stems from: As mentioned above, about 80% of pregnant women will suffer normal pregnancy sickness and for the vast majority of them symptoms will be over by 12-14 weeks.
The truth about hyperemesis gravidarum: To say HG will be over by 12 weeks is like telling someone with a broken leg that it will be better in a couple of days. It's not a sprained ankle, and hyperemesis is not a bit of morning sickness. Hyperemesis often improves by around 20 weeks but “improves” is definitely not the same as “stopping altogether”. Although a good number of women with hyperemesis can recover by about 20 weeks and go on to have normal pregnancies thereafter, for the majority (around 60%) some degree of symptoms will continue until the baby is born. This is a major difference between morning sickness and hyperemesis and is one of the most frustrating prevailing myths from sufferers who are faced with comments like “well you can't still be sick, morning sickness stops at 12 weeks”, not just from relatives and employers but from midwives and doctors too.
Ginger is the cure
Where it stems from: Ginger has long been considered a remedy for nausea and there is a bit of evidence out there that taken as a 1000mg capsule of pure ginger extract, it may help mild nausea, upset stomachs and so on. Prior to modern medicine people had to rely on natural remedies as they had nothing else so yes, it has been used for millennia (the earth is round you know!)
The truth about hyperemesis gravidarum: Seriously... band aid for a broken leg. Women with hyperemesis would love to avoid taking medication if they could. Medication causes huge anxiety for women who are bombarded with suggestions of problems for the baby and if they could avoid anti-emetic medications just by taking ginger then, believe me, they would. In reality, ginger capsules repeat on you and can cause terrible acid reflux which can make symptoms worse and cause pain when vomiting. All other ginger cures, such as ginger beer/cordial/tea, ginger biscuits, pickled ginger and so on are all complete nonsense.
No medication is safe in pregnancy
Where it stems from: The tragic thalidomide disaster.
The truth about hyperemesis gravidarum: There are a number of safe and effective medications that help the severe symptoms of hyperemesis. Furthermore, not treating hyperemesis with effective medication is far more dangerous and can lead to severe complications for both mum and baby. Medications prescribed for hyperemesis have decades of evidence behind them and even the newer ones which haven't been around for as long have enough safety data to justify their prescription in pregnancy. Besides, as I said before... women only take medication when they absolutely have to!
These are just a few of the common myths I hear on a regular basis and I'm sure most of my readers have heard many of them too. The more you share this post the more awareness we raise and the quicker we debunk these frustrating myths that almost every hyperemesis sufferer has to listen to on a regular basis. They serve only to add to her suffering and isolation and it's about time they faded into history.