How can I help my friend with hyperemesis gravidarum?
Here is a commonly asked question, particularly on mediums like Facebook:
"My sister/friend/cousin/partner is suffering hyperemesis gravidarum. She had it in her last pregnancy and was in and out of hospital, on medication and so on. She’s already tried *insert any number of alternative therapies here* without success and I’m wondering what else I can suggest to her. Her mental health is suffering and I want to help."
Then below the post you’ll have a number of replies about homoeopathy, acupuncture, reflexology etc etc. Occasionally you’ll see a sensible suggestion from someone who has suffered about her needing actual medical treatment and hopefully a link to the Pregnancy Sickness Support website with mention of the helpline. And then someone will tag me…
Here is how I would advise a friend or relative of someone suffering HG:
Stop suggesting “alternative and complementary therapies”
When someone suggests things like homoeopathy, acupuncture etc I know they are just trying to help but to the woman suffering it sounds as though they really do not appreciate just how much they are suffering... you wouldn't suggest alternative therapies to mend a broken leg or cure diabetes or pre-eclampsia would you?
When you suggest an “alternative therapy”, no matter how gently you say it, the suggestion is loaded. This is what the woman you are suggesting it to is likely to be thinking:
“I know they are just trying to help but they really do not understand just how much I am suffering”
“They wouldn't suggest alternative therapies if I had a broken leg or diabetes or pre-eclampsia would they? They obviously don’t believe my condition is real”
“They don’t think I’m trying hard enough to get better… maybe they think I enjoy being this ill”
“They think I shouldn’t be taking medication… they don’t realise that I have no choice, that without it the baby and I could die. They just don’t believe me”
Don’t question the lifesaving medication she is taking
Yes in an ideal world we would all like to have natural hippy style pregnancies but this isn’t the ideal world… it’s the real world! In the real world there are all sorts of reason why women need to take medication in pregnancy. And thanks to modern medication women who would have previously died in pregnancy, or before they ever got the chance to be pregnant are able to reproduce. For example, women with asthma, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or Crohn’s disease are able to live normal lifespans and therefore reproduce. Women with cancer and kidney failure can carry to term and recover. Infertile women can reproduce, women survive obstetric emergencies, pre-eclampsia and all sorts of stuff. THANK YOU MODERN MEDICINE. But most relevant to this post is that it is now rare for women with HG to die (although not unheard of). That wasn't always the case and the chances are that 100 years ago your friend/relative would have dies early in the first pregnancy (having already tried ginger and homoeopathy as they were around back then when women died).
Don’t suggest them even as a “complement” to actual medication
There is just no need. She’ll have already looked them up online or had some other unhelpful person (possibly her midwife or GP) suggest them. And in fact, the process of getting to an appointment or having an alternative therapy practitioner around to the house to give a treatment, far from being the relaxing experience it would be when we feel well, can actually exacerbate the symptoms and lead to a downward spiral that leads her back to hospital.
Plus you’ll never get away from the unspoken implication that she should be doing more to help herself get better.
Be a practical support
Instead of trying to “fix her” just support her…
- Pop round and clean her house
- Look after her child
- Do the washing
- Wash the bed sheets
- Cook meals for her partner and kid
- Advocate for her with friends and at the doctors
- Support her to get help via Pregnancy Sickness Support
- Visit her in hospital
- Text her every morning and evening to let her know you are thinking of her and there to support her
- Buy her non-pregnancy magazines about something she is interested in
- Download her some audiobooks
Be a mental support
The absolute best thing you can do is just be there for her... don't make suggestions, just listen and be a practical help for her. HG is just something she has to battle through, medication can help but they're not a cure. Support and "being believed" is what she needs to get through it and stay sane.
Remember that, while pregnancy is not an illness, hyperemesis gravidarum is a very serious and debilitating illness which takes a massive physical and mental toll on the woman suffering. Relieve her feelings of guilt and failure by reminding her of that. Reaffirm that she has an illness and it’s okay to rest. Remind her that if you were ill she would be there to look after you, so she needs to just accept your help.
Help her to come to terms with the fact that for her this is what pregnancy is… a miserable battle yes, but one that she can survive and at the other end she will be stronger having survived. Suggest that when it’s over she can use her experience to help others, volunteering for PSS or raising money for research.
But if you are very worried about her mental health then please get her help. Most areas now have peri-natal mental health teams and it’s important that depression isn’t ignored. HG is strongly linked to depression, not as a cause of HG but a result of it. You can read more about that here.
Get her a thoughtful gift
It’s not the be all and end all but hey, who doesn’t like getting a little present now and then. How about some super comfy maternity pyjamas (seeing as she’s living in PJs at the moment!), or some slippers. I already mentioned audiobooks and they really are great. And obviously I’m going to suggest my books… Hyperemesis Gravidarum – The Definitive Guide and How to be an HG Hero, Helping children understand hyperemesis gravidarum. Or you can buy a pack which includes an HG calendar for ticking of the days. There is a section in the book specifically for family and friends to read.
Other practical gifts include: a nice drink bottle with a straw, ice lolly moulds, odour free products, a nice pillow… stuff like that.
Do not get the following: Smelly flowers, chocolates or any other food stuff, anything claiming to improve symptoms like acupressure bands, ginger capsules, hypnotherapy CDs, aromatherapy wrist roll on or “morning sickness lollies”. Unless she specifically asks for them... she'll say "thank you" but refer to above for what she'll be actually thinking!
I hope all that helps… please let me know what you think and if you are a sufferer is this the sort of stuff you would have liked your friends and relatives to know? Please comment below or on Facebook to let me know.
For further useful tips and info check out these links:
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In conjunction with Pregnancy Sickness Support and Plymouth University I am looking for women who have been treated for HG in the last 2 years in the UK to take part in a research survey. Please click here to find out more.
I am mother of three beautiful children and wife to a fantastic and supportive husband. I am a nurse, a farmer and a trustee for Pregnancy Sickness Support. I love working hard and spending time with my kids.
About this blog
Information and support for pregnancy sickness and hyperemesis gravidarum. Views are my own and do not represent those of any other organisation. Information provided here should not be a substitute for medical advice. My aim is to raise awareness and encourage sufferers to know they are not alone.
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