Hyperemesis Gravidarum - not just morning sickness

Blooming? Blooming awful, more like. Hyperemesis Gravidarum is a very extreme form of morning sickness which can blight a woman's pregnancy. Here we explain what it is, and how you can get through it

Becoming pregnant should be one of the happiest times in a woman’s life, but if you’re affected by hyperemesis, that’s unlikely to happen. Instead it becomes a very strange time – you’re excited by the baby inside you, but feel so incredibly ill, that joy is very much muted.

“Hyperemesis is extreme vomiting in pregnancy”, says Emeka Okaro, a consultant gynaecologist at the Royal London and St Bartholomew Hospital Trust. “There are a number of theories about why it happens, and it’s often not taken seriously enough. It can also be quite dangerous for the mother, who may suffer vitamin deficiencies, and in rare cases, neurological problems.”

Women usually start suffering from hyperemesis very early on in their pregnancy – sometimes even before they have told people they are pregnant. Those early months can be very precious, but when you are throwing up twenty or more times a day, they become more of a chore to struggle through.

“I was vomiting up to thirty or forty times a day,” says midwife and sufferer Johanne Jakeway. “I was so sick I couldn’t stand up. I felt sick all the time and couldn’t eat anything until around 24 weeks.”

No one is quite sure why Hyperemesis occurs, although it’s generally believed that it happens because of very sensitive hormone levels. Some women get so ill, they can’t swallow their own saliva without needing to be sick and while most people don’t have it all the way through their pregnancy, unfortunately some do keep having symptoms until they give birth.

Around eighty percent of women will suffer from some form of morning sickness, but only around one to three percent will suffer from Hyperemesis (and only a very, very small percentage of those will have to go through the whole pregnancy suffering). Hyperemesis is so much more than morning sickness.

Don’t worry about the baby

But that doesn’t mean you have to worry about your little one. Babies are parasites and they will take all the nutrients they need from you. It’s the mothers who suffer from hyperemesis, not the developing foetus.

Sometimes the drugs do work

You may find that if you are suffering, you will be taken into hospital and put on a drip to rehydrate you. You may also be offered a range of drugs, particularly the anti- sickness drugs Cyclizine, Stemetil and Metoclopramide (or maxolon)

Ondanestron (or Zofran) is another drug which some mothers find useful, but it is very expensive.

Feeling alone? Do seek help

Women suffering from hyperemesis may have different symptoms – some maybe sick for months on end, others may stop at 16 weeks or so. Some women may be sick constantly, others may be able to eat a little. But most will tell you that they feel alone and depressed while they are suffering.

What’s important is to seek help. You are not alone. Try self-help groups on the internet, talk to your hospital or GP and also talk to friends and family. It is a very hard time, and sometimes you may feel that others think you are “making a fuss”, but you still need their support and they have no idea what you are going through!


These may help hyperemesis sufferers, but we can’t promise they will! Some women have been known to say that they will hit the next person who suggests that they eat little and often…

  • Don’t eat large meals – try and eat something small several times a day
  • Suck on an ice cube if you can’t face drinking fluids
  • Try sipping on peppermint or ginger tea
  • Avoid strong smelling foods
  • Try and eat foods containing ginger
  • Try and avoid stress – it makes it all much worse.
  • Some people may find that alternative therapies, such as acupuncture of homeopathy help

Above all, remember there is an end to this – and hopefully you will have a wonderful, healthy baby to start you off on a new adventure.

Related links

Hyperemesis Gravidarum - a personal story: Becoming pregnant should be a joy, but those women who suffer from Hyperemesis, it becomes something more akin to a nightmare. Here sufferer Johnanne Jakeway - herself a midwife - explains her story.

Pregnancy Calendar: Keep on top of the rollercoaster ride. As well as helping you to explore and understand the experience, it will also allow you to preserve the memories (good and not so good!).

Preparing A Birth Plan: A birth plan can help you explore your options and prepare for child birth – but expect the unexpected!

Nix that nausea: Yay! You’re expecting a baby and over the moon. But around week five the dreaded morning sickness often raises its ugly head. How can you relieve the symptoms?

How to Avoid Stretch Marks: They're one of the dreaded side effects of pregnancy, but stretch marks can be avoided. Try these tips from the Supernanny team of Mums

Find out more

Blooming Awful provides practical advice and support to women and those close to them.

The HER Foundation: The American based Hyperemesis Education & Research Foundation provides education & support for mothers suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum and those who care for them.

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