We heard exciting news out of the UK this week: Prince William and his wife Kate Middleton are expecting their first child. But the excitement was tempered with concern when reports of the Middleton’s pregnancy-related hospitalization surfaced. She’s reportedly suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, a severe form of morning sickness that affects up to 2% of pregnant women.
“Morning sickness” refers to the nausea and vomiting of pregnancy. The phrase is misleading because it’s not confined to the morning—as many pregnant women can attest—but the condition is common in early pregnancy, affecting roughly 70%–85% of pregnant women. Symptoms usually strike without warning and can range from mild, occasional nausea, to severe, continuous nausea with bouts of vomiting. Some women may become nauseated by the smell of certain foods or get sick after eating.
Morning sickness typically begins within the first nine weeks of pregnancy, with symptoms often improving by week 14. What causes morning sickness is unknown, but the surge of pregnancy hormones is a likely factor. Though morning sickness can weaken a pregnant woman’s quality of life, most mild to moderate cases will not harm you or your baby’s health.
More serious problems can arise in women who can’t keep any food or liquids down and begin to lose weight, as is the case with hyperemesis gravidarum. Women who cannot tolerate liquids without vomiting and show signs of dehydration may need to be given intravenous fluids and nutrients in the hospital. The risk of developing hyperemesis gravidarum may be higher if you are carrying multiple fetuses, have a mother or sister who had the condition, are carrying a female fetus, have a history of hyperemesis gravidarum in a previous pregnancy, or have a history of motion sickness or migraines.
Many women assume that morning sickness is a pregnancy rite of passage and avoid telling their doctor about their symptoms or downplay how bad they feel. This is not the time to grin and bear it. Symptoms can get worse over time and it’s often harder to treat morning sickness once it becomes severe. If you can’t keep any food or fluid down for more than a day or are becoming dehydrated, contact your ob-gyn right away.
If you have mild morning sickness, these tips may help:
- Try vitamin B6 supplements
- Eat crackers before getting out of bed
- Drink beverages made from real ginger such as tea or ginger ale
- Consume smaller nutritious, high-protein meals and snacks throughout the day
- Get enough rest
- Avoid foods and smells that make you feel sick.
For more severe cases, anti-nausea medications or a short hospital stay may be necessary.