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Journey into the world of hyperemesis gravidarum...
11Sep 13

What not to say to a woman with hyperemesis gravidarum

Whilst browsing facebook this morning in bed - moments after waking up as one does – I came across a blog post a friend had shared by Pregnant Chicken, about what NOT to say to a pregnant lady. It was hilarious and cheered me up from my “I have to get up now” blues. And I though I ought to expand on the theme. So in addition to the general pregnancy comment no-no's on Pregnant Chicken's blog here are the things not to say to a women with Hyperemesis Gravidarum (or just bad pregnancy sickness for that matter):
  1. “Have you tried ginger”... this has got to be the all time greatest thing NOT to say. Research, by a colleague of mine Margaret O'Hara, has found that all women with any level of pregnancy sickness know about the “taking ginger” remedy. What most people don't know (although plenty of veteran HG sufferers do) is that the only form of ginger which has found to be in any way helpful is as a capsule, 1000mg per day and then it is only helpful for mild queasiness. Ginger biscuits, ginger ale, ginger tea, ginger ice lolly's... it's all old wives tales. Do you really think a woman who is on powerful anti-emetics and IV fluids could really have avoided all that suffering if she had only tried a bit of ginger?
  2. “Oh I had that, but I still went to work and got on with life”. Well then you didn't have HG so shut up... like comparing a twisted ankle to a broken leg.
  3. “Think positively and get some fresh air”... By saying this it implies that it is all in her mind and she is causing her own suffering. It's a terribly cruel thing to say and a sure fired way to lose a friend and possibly get a fat lip.
  4. “Well at least you can get pregnant... you should be grateful for that”. We know and we are. Pointing it out just adds to the guilt the woman is already inevitably experiencing due to feeling negative towards the pregnancy and for “not feeling grateful”. It cuts deep and the pain lasts. Plenty of women with HG have even been through the pain of experiencing both and are pregnant thanks to IVF so the hurt for them is all the more.
  5. “I loved every moment of pregnancy, it's such a special time, creating life, glowing blah blah blah blah”. Well bully for you and thanks for rubbing my nose in my misery!
  6. “Is it safe to be taking those drugs? Won't they harm the baby?”. No woman actually wants to take medication in pregnancy. We all (well most) go into pregnancy wanting to be natural earth mothers, eating healthy and avoiding all potential harm but sadly some women can not survive pregnancy without medication. In the past, before the invention of modern medicine, women would simply die. Often without knowing why as symptoms would kill her before a pregnancy was confirmed or even suspected. Women with HG taking medication think dozens of times everyday about the safety of the medications, questioning if they really need them and if the baby will be okay but the reality is the drugs are prescribed by a doctor and given because they are NEEDED. They are ultimately much safer then not taking them. Further, the effects of severe dehydration, a baby bathed in ketones and a malnourished mum are hardly good. To add to her concern and worry and to make her feel like she needs to justify her condition is wrong and actually really inappropriate. If a pregnant woman was having an asthma attack would you question if the inhaler was safe? No you'd be pumping away worried that she may die without it! If you genuinely are concerned about the safety of the medications then do your own research via the PSS site and HER Foundation, don't question the sick person that barely has the strength to talk let alone argue!
And here are some things you can, and indeed should, say to a woman suffering with the extreme end of the pregnancy sickness spectrum:
  1. “How can I help? Would you like me to clean/cook/do some washing/take the kids out for a bit etc etc?” Try to be of practical help so she can rest.
  2. “How can I reduce your loneliness?” send a text as often as possible to let her know you are thinking of her and there for her. Offer to contact Pregnancy Sickness Support on her behalf to get a support volunteer for her.
  3. Defend her to others who may be saying the above... stick up for her, raise awareness that it's not her fault and she isn't doing it to herself. Don't just nod along to gossip about her taking medication or being lazy; be loyal to your friend.


Avoiding the first six comments and doing the last three will not only make the world of difference but it will strengthen a friendship and probably earn you a god parent role!  

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This is so helpful, thank you for writing it! As a morning sickness veteran I've heard it all! At one point I threatened to throw up on the next person who told me to take ginger! The "its a sign of healthy baby" thing drove me nuts too. After 9 solid months of morning sickness with my 1st (& v.unsympathetic health professionals telling me it was all in my head) i had a v.petit baby who had a quite a struggle to grow & thrive. I have had to be monitored v.closely through my subsequent pregnancies because of having a low BMI - as a result of my 1st pregnancy. Grrr! Rant over, thank you for this piece I've shared on fb
Simone, 11th September 2013

Hi Simone, glad you enjoyed it and thanks for sharing it. Yes the comment about it being a good sign can be so mixed. On the one hand there is a slight correlation between increased sickness and reduced chance of miscarriage but that's not to say the actual baby is any healthier for it and if HG is untreated then it leads to significant increased risks of complications for the baby such as being small for dates. As someone who has had two miscarriages it also lead to further stress and emotional struggles as I was torn between not wanting HG but knowing that not having it meant I was likely to miscarriage... if you read my very early posts on this blog my story is documented there :( x
Spewing Mummy, 11th September 2013

Well said! I was so sick during both of my pregnancies and even the doctor was unsympathetic and made me feel awful for taking anti sickness tablets. My MW said being sick every few minutes of every day was 'normal and all part of pregnancy'. It's so hard to look past it when you're sitting with your head in the toilet bowl again. It does get better though and it will all be ok. Also they say sickness is a sign of a healthy baby growing well so that always made me cheer up a bit. Great post. Xx
talesofatwinmum, 11th September 2013

Thanks! Unfortunately I've heard most of the 6 "no-no's" from healthcare professionals as well as random strangers and so called "good friends".

Glad you enjoyed the post. x
Spewing Mummy, 11th September 2013

I still feel saddened by the lack of support and understanding I experienced when pregnant especially from so called friends. I think this and the trauma of HG were factors contributing to my post natal depression. Thankfully that is all in the past and I have my beautiful little one year daughter now who has made it all worthwhile.
Sadly I don't feel brave enough to go through it all again so my daughter will never have a sibling.
I found your blog and other blogs so very helpful during that dark time.

Melanie x
honeycat, 12th September 2013

Hi Melanie, I'm sorry to hear your experience was so bad but glad my blog helped. I'm glad too that you are now able to enjoy your daughter... it's what it's all about! If you ever change your mind in the future about trying again be sure to get in touch with Pregnancy Sickness Support for pre-emptive planning advice!

Caitlin x
Spewing Mummy, 16th September 2013

I'm reading this (after just giving birth to my HG baby 13 days ago) and giving it a mental round of applause! I've just discovered your blog, albeit, a little late for me! However it's great to see what you're doing - awareness of HG is not great and just knowing you're not alone is by far the best help for sufferers.
I've got a few posts on my own blog about my HG journey and I'm also planning to do a HG In Retrospect in the near future now that our little HG bundle has finally arrived. I'd love it if you stopped by for a nosey sometime if you get a chance.
Amy Lorimer, 26th November 2013

Hi Amy, Massive congratulations on little David :) Shame you didn't find my blog sooner and also the PSS Support Network, there are lots of volunteers in Scotland! Love your blog, particularly good photography! My other blog is - I'm fairly new to photography but trying and enjoying learning. Let me know when your HG post is live and I'll spread the word via the PSS social media sites. x
Spewing Mummy, 27th November 2013

Thanks for your comment and sharing your experience. You are lucky to have had supportive doctors 18 years ago! things here are changing, slowly but surely and I started hearing a lot more positive stories compared to a couple of years ago. x
Spewing Mummy, 14th December 2013

I had HG with my daughter, who is now 18, judging by the comments I think I was quite lucky in that I had very supportive doctors and midwives, I managed to get to 6 weeks pregnant before I gave in and went into hospital (up till then I survived on chocolate buttons and frozen tip tops) but my gp would have had me on a drip far sooner. Its very easy to forget just how dangerous HG can be especially if you are made to feel like its 'normal' and you should just get on with it! I was incredibly poorly when I went into hospital, till it happened to me I'd never heard of it, so blogs like this are a godsend to people suffering - I thought I was the only one and at the time couldn't see an end to it, i just wanted it to end - regardless of how, would have been good to have read about others experiences. Keep up the good work!
Dechasjay, 14th December 2013

I have only just found this site. I suffered up to 20weeks pregnant but the was very sad to hear my baby had died. My HG wasn't taken seriously at all till I was over 16weeks! The doc and MW just kept telling me it would stop. I was in and out of hospital.. My mother Inlaw was my life saver! She was there for me almost every day. Cleaning my house, making meals for my hubby as I couldn't stand the smell of cooking! He has to change is man perfume, his breath used to make sick. My own mother used to make me sick. I had that awful taste in my mouth the whole time. It was just horrendous! Officially the worst pregnancy made worse by loosing my precious baby. I'm am so thankful to have found this site. I still want a baby more than ever now. A lot of my family think I'm crazy but I feel I have more energy to fight than I did in my first pregnancy. My praise goes to all you ladies who have suffered this awful illness!
Shell Atkin, 12th September 2015

Wish I had found your blog when I was pregnant! I definitely had hg and was hospitalized twice. It was awful, I Love to have another. But how my supposed to care for one child and be pregnant and throwing up all the time? Everyone keeps telling me that all pregnancies are different but I'm afraid I'm just gonna have HG again. This has definitely changed my life plan.
Cyndi, 13th December 2015

Thank you so much for writing this. I was pregnant with a HG baby five years ago, when I first went to the doctors about the sickness I was told that it was just normal morning sickness and was looked at like I was a silly little girl. It wasn't until quite a few weeks later when my urine was tested and I was off the scale with ketones and had lost two stone within 6 weeks that I was taken seriously and hospital admission was mentioned. I had my twelve week scan a couple of day after that appointment so I was booked for a review after. It was at the scan when we found out my precious little baby was incredibly poorly and would not survive. I was told I needed a termination or I would die along with my baby, that was the hardest week of my life and I still mourn and want my baby. Maybe it was the sickness which caused the babies problems, we will never know, but even five years after it comforts me to see that there is help and support, I wish I would have found you sooner!
Leanne , 15th January 2016

Spewing Mummy replies...

Dear Leanne, I'm so sorry to hear how much you suffered and to lose your baby too... it's just awful. Please feel reassured that it definitely wasn't anything you did or did not do in the 12 weeks before. There is lots of support and help for women with HG now and hopefully that will continue to grow over the coming year. Thanks for commenting. X

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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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