How Horrible Is Morning Sickness?


According to BBC news, too many women are suffering from morning sickness in silence.  While it’s normal to experience some level of queasiness in the first trimester, there are women who get clobbered with morning sickness (officially known as Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy or NVP). A small percent–about two according to the BBC report– are so ill, they can be hospitalized. This kind of very severe morning sickness is known as “Hyperemesis Gravidarum.”

Women with hyperemesis gravidarum have a very hard time keeping anything down and can therefore become dangerously dehydrated. Though there’s no clear data, researchers think as many as 15% of women with hyperemesis gravidarum terminate their pregnancies. Apparently another 10% consider terminating.

The medical community has shied away from treating morning sickness since the midcentury Thalidomide debacle. (Thalidomide was once given to morning sick women with abandon… until it was discovered the serious birth defects if produced in babies). A conference in England this week opens the NVP file once more: researchers will discuss what can be done to treat it.

The big problem is no one really understands the root cause of severe NVP and hyperemesis gravidarum. Another is that it’s unethical to run clinical drug trials on pregnant women; though recently this stance has been challenged.

What I found hardest about my own relatively low-level morning sickness, was meeting the demands of my job. I was exhausted and sick at work, often unable to think or speak clearly. When I had a toddler to care for, that first trimester was brutal. I pulled a mattress into the living room and passed out there while he played with blocks. I don’t know if I suffered in silence, but it was a very isolating time. I just felt out of synch with everything and everyone. There was always a nagging pukey sensation holding me back.

Perhaps more awareness of NVP and hyperemesis gravidarum might help create some support for women in the first trimester. Like so many aspects of motherhood, a little good support goes a long, long way. Pregnant women are not “sick.” Except when they are.

How did morning sickness affect your life? And (when) did it end?

photo: Mishio/Flickr