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Journey into the world of hyperemesis gravidarum...
31Jul 14

Isn't Morning Sickness Great?

There's been lots in the news this week about regular old Morning Sickness, as experienced by up to 80% of pregnant women. The knowledge that morning sickness can be a sign of a normally developing foetus is not new, but a study from Canada out this week claims that the babies of women with morning sickness may be more intelligent and have a lower risk of birth defects as well.

Now, I'm not going to get into a discussion about the funding of the research or about the fact that of the 20% of women who don't get morning sickness there is a higher incident of smoking which, probably because it reduces effective blood flow across the placenta, is known to reduce the sickness symptoms and there is likely a correlation between mothers that smoke and less intelligent babies, increased abnormalities and miscarriage... Mainly because I can't be bothered right now to dig out all the references to back up such a discussion... (Note to self... plan and pitch literature review on above theory to medical journals...). But I am going to write about why the difference between Morning Sickness (MS) and Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG) matters and why studies like these do more harm than good.

The British, nay world, press seem intend on referring to the Duchess of Cambridge's admission to hospital in 2012 as “Acute Morning Sickness”. She in fact had Hyperemesis Gravidarum, a definition of which includes the need for IV hydration. Now I don't claim to have any idea of how much or little the Duchess suffered but the fact that she suffered at all indicates to me that she deserves sympathy, support and recognition of the condition. Her public appearances later in pregnancy imply that she was prehaps one of the luckier sufferers who responded well to treatment and recovered mid-pregnancy to go on and enjoy an otherwise normal experience. About 40% of hyperemesis sufferers follow the same pattern while 60
% suffer symptoms to a greater or lesser degree until the baby is born. Either way, she had HG.

The problem with referring to the Duchess of Cambridge's condition as acute morning sickness is that it undermines the condition she actually suffered with, which the study I refer to above clearly is NOT about.

Far from indicating a healthy and progressing pregnancy with extra intelligent babies, HG can lead to a host of complications and untreated is extremely dangerous for both mum and baby. Malnutrition, dehydration, increase risk of DVT, mental health complications, small for weight babies and placental abruption are all complications associated with HG. Furthermore, a huge amount of wanted babies die from HG, almost exclusively through neglectful medical care.

Why is medical care for HG so neglectful? Because it is lumped in with morning sickness and doctors use studies like these “oh morning sickness is a good sign” as an excuse not to treat this serious complication which is as far from morning sickness as a sprained ankle is from a broken femur!

Woman's Hour on BBC Radio 4 this morning did a piece on the study from Canada and during the show they, like every paper that's reported it too, mentioned that the Duchess of Cambridge had suffered extreme morning sickness; the implication being that this study was therefore relevant to her condition (and Prince George is likely a genius – no pressure lad!). Not once in the piece did they mention hyperemesis gravidarum or the dangers of the extreme end of the spectrum. The piece playing straight into the hands of the “oh it's just a bit of morning sickness... get on with it” camp. And will have been great for all those who walk around thinking “I had morning sickness, I just got on with it, I don't know why some women make such a fuss”... now they can add “it's good for the baby” to the list of ignorant, insensitive comments.

Across Britain today alone hundreds of women will present at their GP's or contact their midwives or head to A&E because their symptoms are miles beyond the parameters of morning sickness. I sincerely hope they are not met by medical staff who have read the papers or listened to Radio 4 and believe therefore that their hyperemesis is a good thing. I wonder how many women being kept alive by strong anti-emetics and IV fluids will get calls and texts from friends and relatives saying “Oh I heard on Radio 4 that your sickness is a good sign... your going to have a genius”. And in that moment their loneliness and isolation will increase ten fold as they try to explain yet again that they do not have morning sickness.

And it's not just the women on the extreme end of sickness that I feel sorry for on this one... Women who don't feel sick at all (and don't smoke) have now got more to worry about. Not only have they now got the added worry of defects and miscarriage but according to this study their babies are likely to be more stupid than the average person (because surely if up to 80% of women suffer morning sickness then their babies are “the norm” rather than above average??? Obviously I don't think that, I'm just demonstrating how easy it is to manipulate the message).

For goodness sake, can we all please stop having a go at pregnant women... Lets do some proper research into actual stuff, like how we can reduce the wanted pregnancies lost to HG (nearly 10% of pregnancies, which equates to 1,800 per year in Britain). Or how we can treat the symptoms more effectively and reduce the long term effects of the condition for both mum and baby. Or how we can prevent the severity of symptoms through effective pre-emptive planning.

I can appreciate the “news worthiness” of stories like these but for goodness sake, lets start studying and reporting stuff that actually matters!


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I have suffered HG several times and two healthy boys as a result. In the last few years I have suffered HG and 2 miscarriages. I am 43 this year and too scared to try again. It's nice to know I'm not alone xx
Sharon Connolly, 31st July 2014

Spewing Mummy replies...

Thanks for your comment Sharon and I'm glad that you get comfort from knowing you're not alone. There is whole big "HG Community"out there to support sufferers! Indeed, having had two miscarriages myself I know how frustrating it is when articles like these manage to not only undermine the experience of HG sufferers but that of women who miscarried and had sickness. Feeding all these old wives tales with poorly reported research just adds to the ridiculous myths in society about pregnancy!

Love that I am asked to count how many fingers are shown (it was two) - that's how I feel like gesturing to the people you talk about! Seriously though - fabulous article! So, so hate it when they call HG acute morning sickness! I got so cross when Kate was pregnant by all the people who said "Oh. So she's a princess, she get's special treatment, eh? I managed to get through MY morning sickness". Keep up the good work - love your blog, the words often seem like they could have been written by me your experiences and take on things are so similar!
Tracy, 31st July 2014

Spewing Mummy replies...

Hi Tracy, Thanks for your comment! Lol, the fingers are to try to reduce the spam trying to sell me penis enlargement pills and directing me to virus riddled websites... blogs are continuously bombarded with them but I didn't want my spam filter to be too hard for sufferers so it only semi-works! Anyway, glad you like my blog and feel like it represents your experience of HG. It is so damaging when they refer to the Duchess's condition as acute morning sickness... if only they knew how harmful it is to the cause. But then women in the public eye are always going to be judged, people love to hate them, but it's a shame that it hurts so many other women in the process.  

I'm seven months pregnant and was diagnosed with HG in my early stages I still get sick and have to take anti sickness tablets although it's not as bad does that mean I've still got HG or is it morning sickness?
sherika, 31st July 2014

Spewing Mummy replies...

Hi Sherika, I'm sorry to hear you're suffering. It sounds like you've definitely got HG to still be sick this far along. The fact that you've been getting treatment means that a lot of the risks I've talked about in my post will be minimal so please don't worry there could be anything wrong. Not long to go for you though, try to rest as much as possible and keep fighting that HG monster. If you need support then get in touch with Pregnancy Sickness Support. X

Thank you for making sure we are not alone. I had undiagnosed HG back in 1995. My GP just said bad morning sickness and gave me this nasty mint indigestion liquid and left me to it. At 3 months I was in and out of hospital for a month and never attached to an IV, I just got jabbed with anti sickness meds several times a day and as soon as I kept a meal down I could go home. Within a few hours I was sick again.The sickness was so bad that I could not have a sip of water without being sick or even put a clean toothbrush in my mouth. I also had arguments after my first scan on how along I was in my pregnancy as they said I was less than what I was. I lost my daughter at 18 weeks. The report said she had no defects and was perfectly formed and she was the size of a 13 week baby. That was the only time I saw HG was on that report. Afterwards I blamed myself. There was no information anywhere and I believe awareness would be the best way to help mothers and their little ones. The good news is that I now have 2 wonderful sons where I didn't experience HG at all, just morning sickness where a ginger biscuit and a drink before getting up settled it. There is an enormous difference between the two as my daughter's pregnancy nearly killed us both and I would of let if if there was a chance of saving her. Your doing a great work here. Thank you x
Lorna, 31st July 2014

Spewing Mummy replies...

Oh Lorna,

My heart is breaking for you... I don't even know what to say, I'm so sorry for your loss and I hope time has made it easier and I'm so glad you were able to have normal pregnancies after that. I just wish healthcare professionals would realise they have the blood of these babies on their hands - proper treatment and care would prevent the late miscarriages and mean that women don't have to terminate their deeply loved and wanted babies. It's for women like you that I keep fighting the fight and telling it as it is. The last deaths we're in the nineties and thankfully things have changes a lot since then but it's far from good enough yet... I'll keep fighting until things are as good as they can be. XXX

My daughter in law had HG it is nothing like Morning sickness. I heard the last little bit on Women's Hour when they mentioned ginger I did think to myself "they can't be serious"! Please please get in touch with them send them your excellent blog get them to have someone on who knows what HG is so that poor pregnant girl somewhere who thinks she and her baby are going to die get to know that she isn't alone. Fliss (my DIL) has given us two wonderful grandchildren but she miscarried her first baby because of HG. If she wasn't so stubborn & had the sense to do her own research I don't believe we would have the G.C.We were also lucky that we live on a farm 200yrds away from each other, which meant I could easily have my grandson when she had to go into hospital (to many times to remember) or the days when the meds just took time to kick in. I think without our & her parents backup she wouldn't have had our darling granddaughter. You can't have 2 children if you don't have family or very good friend support. As a nurse I have never ever seen anyone vomit like poor Fliss did it was endless!! So please let the media know that this research is not going to help and that people need to know that Morning sickness acute or otherwise isn't HG, perhaps you could send your blog to the Duchess of Cambridge I'm sure she would be interested. Right now to tell my pregnant daughter that her twins are going to be unintelligent! Or is it that they will be girls because the other myth being it must be a boy. The frightening thing is someone got paid to do that research!
Caroline Hancock, 31st July 2014

Spewing Mummy replies...

Hi Caroline.

Thanks for your comment and I'm sorry to hear your Daughter-in-law had suffered so much. She had indeed done well to get through it and I don't doubt that that is in a big part down tot he support you gave her!

We are working hard to change things in the media and hopefully with my book out next month things will start to change more rapidly. We just need the media to stop picking up on irrelevant nonsense and take notice of the important matters affecting women today.

Unfortunately the Duchess of Cambridge declined involvement with the charity last year, which is a shame for the HG community, but we were already making huge head way before we had a high profile sufferer and we can continue to speak and fight for ourselves. I have a number of articles coming out over the coming months and sharing posts like this on social media is a great way to get the message out there.

The most pressing need is for funding for the charity PSS as currently we don't receive formal funding and don't have enough money to keep up with demand for our service. Again though, hopefully that's changing too and my colleagues and I are working hard on a funding bid. In terms of funding for research, our standards in the UK are different to Canada, results favouring the products of the funder would be dismissed by the medical world here - thank goodness! It's just very frustrating when the media don't report the conflict of interest with research funding. It's like nestle producing "research" claiming bottle milk is superior to breast milk. 

If you and you and Fliss would like to do something positive then fundraising for PSS would be very very welcome!

C x

Its great that people are fighting to get the knowledge out there. It broke my heart the day I was told she died. I have come to terms with that now but it took a long time to stop feeling such a failure. I think one of the biggest failings the NHS had is they knew exactly how ill I had been and the consultant advised I wait a month or so before trying again when they should of told me to wait a year as I was suffering the effects of malnutrition. I got pregnant within 4 months with my son as I was so desperate to have a baby to hold, I was also still suffering with severe anaemia that had not been even tested for.My son had problems with all his baby teeth that basically went bad not long after they appeared because I did not give my body a chance to recover through misinformation and neglect. I actually lost my own teeth too through the same reason at the same time. I just am really grateful that his bones were fine. He is now at college and has really healthy adult teeth and never had a filling in them. You don't have to say anything at all, just sharing information and getting the word out there is enough. We have more power to control what happens to us if we have the information we need to make the right choices. If I hear anybody I know has bad morning sickness or has been admitted to hospital I pass on the word but mention very little of my own story as I don't want to cause extra problems. I also get a little paranoid and watch them a little too much just to make sure they are all okay. If I can help save one baby then I am happy and it wasn't all for nothing x
Lorna, 31st July 2014

Spewing Mummy replies...

Lorna I can't imagine how hard it is to have a late miscarriage, mine were much earlier and certainly the second one had been "expected" due to the lack of sickness. What really makes me mad is that you took so much blame on yourself and felt like a failure. You were not the one at fault - your doctors failed you! Their negligent care killed your baby and they ought to have been held to account instead of sending you on your way with a pat on the back and "better luck next time" attitude. Thankfully miscarriage care has improved dramatically, far more than HG care has. That's very much my goal, to improve HG care the way miscarriage care has improved. I've just seen your email so will reply to that shortly... C x

Sadly, I feel Lorna's pain all too well. I had extreme HG in 2001, resulting in 18 weeks in hospital, IV fed with diagnosed malnutrition. I lost my baby at 20 weeks, during a long and painful premature labour, and was totally heartbroken. I have never got over the trauma and never will. However, a wonderful consultant helped me through a successful HG pregnancy in 2012 and I'm grateful of my beautiful, strong daughter every day. She was worth the HG fight. It is fantastic that you are raising awareness and offering support to HG sufferers. In 2001 I was alone and frightened, in 2012 I was equipped with the power of knowledge and a support network. I'm now a PSS volunteer myself and strive to help others by offering support and raising awareness. Great article, thank you.
Rachel, 1st August 2014

Spewing Mummy replies...

Hi Rachel, Thanks so much for your comment. I'm so sorry you lost your baby back in 2001 but it's brilliant that the support network helped you and that the treatment just eleven years on has improved so much. I'd like to get the details of the consultant to add to the HG friendly list if he's not already on there. Can you email me with it? I've just been putting together a service evaluation report about the work of the support network for the last three years and it's stories like yours that really demonstrate the value of the service... lets just hope this funding bid is successful so we can keep it running! And thank you for volunteering. xxx

Dag nabbit good stuff you whsrpepinappers!
Celina, 29th December 2014

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About Me

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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