Since the Duchess of Cambridge revealed she is suffering with hyperemesis gravidarum in her third pregnancy, many women have come forward to share their own experiences of the condition.
These mums want to raise awareness that this severe form of pregnancy sickness is not the same as morning sickness, because the excessive nausea and vomiting they experience throughout the day often results in hospital treatment.
On top of these physical symptoms, women who have hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) report feeling worthless, isolated and - at worst - depressed.
“I got a lot of: ‘Oh I had some morning sickness at the start, it’s not nice’,” said mum Alexandra West, 28, from Haywards Heath. “But it’s not just morning sickness, it takes over your whole life.
“People didn’t understand. It’s hard to explain how you feel because it’s not just physically draining, it’s mentally draining. Whilst everyone was excited for the pregnancy, I just wanted it to be over so I wasn’t sick anymore.”
Caitlin Dean, chair of the charity Pregnancy Sickness Support said: “Understandably, hyperemesis is an incredibly isolating condition.
“It’s depressing enough to be sick for a few days but when you know you’ve got months ahead of you, it’s very normal and understandable to become depressed and lonely.
“In those circumstances, women should seek help for their symptoms of depression, and support is key.”
“I hated the way I felt and looked.”
Alexandra West, 28, from Haywards Heath.
Alexandra West, who is mum to Darcy, seven, and Mason, six, and currently pregnant with her third child, did not experience hyperemesis gravidarum during her first two pregnancies.
At eight weeks pregnant with her third child, she started to have extreme vomiting, which eventually led to dehydration. Her first set of anti-sickness tablets didn’t work and she ended up in hospital at 12 weeks pregnant and was put on fluids through a drip.
West ended up back in hospital at 13 weeks and was given an anti-sickness shot and another set of tablets.
“I was mentally drained and physically drained,” West told us. “I couldn’t eat, drink or sleep. I was so fed up and negative about everything in life.
“The pain was horrendous from all the sickness. It hurt my back. My stomach. My throat burnt constantly,
“Whilst everyone was excited for the pregnancy I just wanted it to be over so I wasn’t sick anymore. It made me feel very negative towards the pregnancy. I hated the way I felt and looked.
“I actually have had counselling about my anxiety towards things, because I felt if I couldn’t handle the pregnancy, how would I cope with a baby?
“With my other two, stages like hearing the first heartbeat or feeling the first kick was a magical thing. This time everything has been taken over by vomiting and not wanting to get out of bed.”
West said she had acupuncture at 16 weeks and went four days without vomiting. Now, she only gets sickness occasionally and said: “I could not recommend acupuncture enough.”
“I got very down, very depressed.”
Andrea Henderson, 33, from Northumberland.
Andrea Henderson is mum to Kurt, six, Flynn, four, and Coby, one. She experienced severe pregnancy sickness with all three pregnancies, from two weeks after conception.
She constantly felt dizzy and she explained it felt like a “hangover that didn’t go away”. She experienced it in her first pregnancy for the whole nine months, the second pregnancy she was put on steroids and the third time “wasn’t as bad”. However she was hospitalised all three times.
“I got very down, very depressed,” Henderson said. “You can’t do anything, you can’t go anywhere, there is no enjoyment in anything.
“You can’t read or watch telly. I just slept, because when you’re awake you’re vomiting. It was an escape, that was the only escape. It was a very depressing illness.
“In my first pregnancy I was in hospital for three months without leaving and I felt so low, I didn’t know whether I’d be able to carry on with my pregnancy.
“The second and third pregnancies there was a lot more knowledge and so I got help from a specialist and there was aftercare, too. But in my second pregnancy I had more to plan - like who would look after the kids - you have to think about everything because it’s not just you and the baby, there are others to look after.”
Sharing a message to other mums who are experiencing hyperemesis gravidarum, Henderson urged women to get help as soon as possible.
“Just try and get help, don’t sit and suffer,” she said. “The sooner you get treated, the easier it is to manage.”
“I became a recluse, isolated from everyone.”
Helen Stratton, 30, from Leicestershire.
Helen Stratton is mum to four-year-old Phoebe and 18-month-old Jesse. She fell ill with HG from around seven weeks along in both her pregnancies.
With her first child, Stratton wasn’t diagnosed until she was 14 weeks pregnant and ended up losing two stone because she was unable to eat. She was hospitalised and had four weeks off work.
The second time it was easier to get help as she said she knew what the problem was. Unfortunately, she had it worse and ended up in urgent care.
Stratton felt constantly nauseous and weak, and on a couple of occasions, she collapsed.
“I felt really pathetic,” she said. “Especially the first time when you think it’s just a bit of morning sickness. I was so drained and tired, it affected me emotionally quite a lot, it was hard to deal with things.
“I wondered why it was affecting me so bad, I questioned whether I would manage this again.
“With both pregnancies I went through a tough patch where I felt I couldn’t leave the house. I felt so ill and became a recluse, isolated from everyone.
“It made me feel worried about the baby a lot, concerned she’s not getting enough nutrients and wondering whether it’s affecting her.”
Stratton said the first time around she avoided going to her GP and waited, hoping it would get better, but advised women to seek help as soon as possible.
“I didn’t want to be pregnant anymore.”
Claire Dunn, 33, Leeds.
Claire Dunn is mum to Sienna, four, and Holly, 18 months. She was diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum at eight weeks in her first pregnancy, and five weeks in her second. She couldn’t keep water down, felt faint and weak, was severely dehydrated and had no appetite.
“Mentally I felt okay at first, but as time went on I got really frustrated and then really depressed,” Dunn said. “Initially friends and family tried to help by getting me to eat, but nobody understood it wasn’t just a case of sickness in pregnancy.
“I was spending all my time in bed, wasn’t able to work and eventually was persuaded to go see the doctor. At first I was put off as the Duchess of Cambridge was in the press suffering from hyperemesis and I was paranoid that I would look like I was jumping on the bandwagon, but then it got worse so I felt I didn’t have a choice.
“At this point I was so weak I could barely walk, but the doctor was great. He said I had hyperemesis and reassured me that the baby would get the nutrients they needed.”
After a few days, things got worse for Stratton - she wasn’t speaking, eating, drinking or getting up.
“I didn’t want to be pregnant anymore,” she said. “I would have done anything to not feel sick. I was hospitalised, given anti-sickness injections and put on a drip. I took medication until about 24 weeks in the end.
“At my worst, I felt depressed, worthless and useless. In my second pregnancy I felt really sad that I couldn’t enjoy my oldest daughter and felt bad on her. I had huge amounts of guilt.
“I would definitely not consider getting pregnant again due to hyperemesis. I had a sickness bug recently and it gave me a massive flashbacks to hyperemesis.
“Although the doctors helped me I would say go to midwives or the hospital. I also read online forums and hyperemesis groups for support.”
How to seek support:
One-to-one peer support.
Dean said women should get in touch with the Pregnancy Sickness Support charity in order to be matched with a one-to-one peer. This can be someone local to you.
“This support can have a huge impact on improving mental health and make women feel less alone,” she said.
“Our volunteers can text, email or call and will check in, offer supportive tips and self-care ideas and offer emotional support.”
Open up to family and friends.
Elizabeth Duff, senior policy adviser, at The National Childbirth Trust (NCT) said: “Many mums-to-be find it hard to talk about their mental health but if HG is starting to affect you emotionally, it’s really helpful to open up to someone.
“Explain the impact HG is having on your life and how it’s making you feel. Talking about a mental health problem can often make you feel less anxious and be the first step to recovery”
Seek professional support.
Dean said if you’re worried about your mental health, then it’s important to seek help from your GP, midwife, or contact a perinatal mental health scheme.
“Ask someone who knows you well to come with you to advocate and fight for your corner and explain to doctors this isn’t like you,” she added.
Treatment options for hyperemesis gravidarum:
“There are medications that can be used in pregnancy, including the first 12 weeks, to help improve the symptoms of HG,” the NHS Choices website states. “These include anti-sickness (anti-emetic) drugs, vitamins (B6 and B12) and steroids, or combinations of these.
“Evidence suggests that the earlier you start treatment, the more effective it will be. You may need to try different types of medication until you find what works best for you.
“If your nausea and vomiting cannot be controlled, you may need to be admitted to hospital. Treatment can include intravenous fluids, which are given directly into a vein through a drip. If you have severe vomiting, the anti-sickness drugs may also need to be given via a vein or a muscle.”
For more information:
Pregnancy Sickness Support charity offers help and guidance to women suffering. They have a helpline, as well as online forums, guidance, coping strategies and a wealth of information online. Call 024 7638 2020 or visit their website for more info.
The HER Foundation has lots of research, useful information and support on HG. Visit their website here.
The NCT has a wealth of information on the signs and symptoms of HG on their website.