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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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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