New mother in pain in a hospital bed.

If you’re newly pregnant, you probably know that the dreaded morning sickness symptom of pregnancy could be just around the corner. Or maybe you’re already in the middle of experiencing it. But what might catch you off guard is if you are one of the 1-3% of pregnant mamas who experience a more serious condition called Hyperemesis Gravidarum—or severe morning sickness. 

How is Hyperemesis Gravidarum Different from Regular Morning Sickness?

Just as with normal cases of morning sickness, hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) is thought to be caused by rising hormone levels—but the exact cause of this severe condition is still unknown. As with other pregnancy-related morning sickness, symptoms typically appear by six weeks pregnant, and peak between 9-13 weeks. 

However, there’s a big difference. Mamas who experience severe morning sickness have to deal with way more than just nausea or occasional vomiting. And the condition can have a significant effect on a pregnant person’s well-being, not to mention their growing baby. 

“Normal” morning sickness symptoms include: 

  • Mild queasiness to intense nausea (whether in the morning or throughout the day)
  • Occasional vomiting (can sometimes be set off by certain smells)
  • Trouble keeping certain foods/food groups down

The following symptoms are not normal, and could point to Hyperemesis Gravidarum. If you experience any of the following, contact your provider:

  • Nausea that doesn’t subside, along with severe, frequent vomiting
  • Dehydration due to vomiting (signs of dehydration include dry mouth, thirst, small amounts of dark urine, feeling lightheaded)
  • The inability to keep most food or drink down due to vomiting
  • Weight loss of 5% or more of pre-pregnancy weight
  • Headaches
  • Jaundice
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Low blood pressure

How is Hyperemesis Gravidarum treated? 

For many mamas the symptoms of hyperemesis gravidarum ease up somewhere in the second trimester (14-20 weeks pregnant). However, it’s possible that some HG patients might need care throughout their entire pregnancy.

There are a few prescription medications your provider may be able to recommend to treat severe morning sickness—however it’s important to discuss the pros and cons, and ensure that you’re informed of the benefits and risks of any medication. Your provider might also recommend additional measures such as:

  • Bed Rest: while bed rest might help mamas with severe cases of HG avoid some nausea and provide a certain level of comfort, it can also have downsides like muscle loss and a more difficult time recovering after delivery
  • Vitamins: some providers may recommend certain vitamins (such as Thiamin or other B vitamins) to decrease nausea and help with your electrolyte balance
  • Acupressure: for some amas, acupressure at certain pressure points might help with nausea relief. One common pressure point is at the inner wrist, three fingers away from crease of hand (right between the two tendons). Wearing Sea Bands (typically found in your local drugstore) can help to keep constant pressure on this point
  • Herbal remedies: low-dose ginger supplements, chews or teas may be helpful to soothe nausea 

In some cases, HG mamas might require hospitalization in order to get an IV for hydration, electrolytes, vitamins and nutrients. In extreme cases, tube feeding could be required in order to ensure proper nutrition for both mama and baby. 

If you suspect you might have hyperemesis gravidarum, schedule an appointment with your provider immediately. They will do an examination (of you and baby), and order blood tests to determine whether your levels are normal. Weight loss and nutrient deficits during pregnancy are serious things, mama—both for your own health, and the health of your growing baby. Don’t wait to get the help you need.