Hyperemesis Gravidarum: How to Survive the Worst Nausea You'll Ever Have

No, hyperemesis gravidarum isn't code for a really bad case of morning sickness. Here's how to deal with this rare but debilitating pregnancy condition.

Woman in White Tank Top with Morning Sickness Leaning on Toilet Shutterstock.com
For many women, pregnancy is a time to pamper themselves and bask in the glow of the life they are carrying. But if you're an expectant mom battling hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), a rare pregnancy condition marked by extreme nausea and vomiting, it's more about just getting by. Symptoms typically crop up around 9 weeks and tend subside around the 20-week mark, though sometimes they last longer. No matter the duration, the round-the-clock queasiness and vomiting can be brutal for a mom-to-be and carry serious consequences, including dehydration, weight loss and malnutrition. In extreme cases, women may require medication, hospitalization or in-home nursing support.

I struggled with HG during both of my pregnancies and twice experienced just how exhausting and debilitating the condition can be. Though the nausea is the worst you'll ever experience, the good news is, it doesn't last forever. Here are a few tips to help you make it through.

Manage Your Triggers

When you have HG, the most mundane things—a blast of sunlight, a sip of water—can leave you sprinting for the nearest bathroom. For me, it was driving to and from the grocery store. Being jostled in the car made me vomit instantly, to say nothing of the sight and smell of the food. It was so bad that between weeks 6 and 20 of my pregnancy, my husband had to handle all of the shopping. It was for the best anyway, because I usually only came home with rice and crackers, which I'd later throw up.

Choose a Supportive Health Care Provider

Because hyperemesis is rare, it's important to find a provider who understands the condition and has experience treating women with it. After all, there's nothing worse than going to your OB after losing 20 pounds only to be told that the extreme nausea is all in your head or will pass after the first trimester. (Some women suffer with it all the way up to the delivery date.) Ask trusted friends for recommendations, or do an online search for a local health care provider who's well-versed in HG. A site like HelpHer.org is a good place to start.

Talk to Your Doctor About Medication

During my second pregnancy, my doctor prescribed me anti-nausea pills, which were a godsend and helped make the pregnancy far more comfortable. By 16 weeks, I was able to eat well, and after 20 weeks, I only needed half of a dose to keep meals down.

Does this mean medicine works for everyone with HG? No. But for some sufferers, it's the only thing standing between them and malnutrition or a trip to the ER. And in some cases, it's what allows their bodies to support a pregnancy at all. Talk to your health care provider to figure out if medication is right for you.

Ask for Help

Even the most independent woman will need some assistance during this most challenging portion of her pregnancy, especially if she has other children. So don't be shy (or feel guilty!) about calling in favors from family, friends and neighbors. You'll find that everyday tasks become impossible when you're hovered over a toilet all day, and even an offer to do a load of your laundry or make a pharmacy run can be a huge help.

Join a Support Group

Only an estimated 1-3 percent of women have experienced hyperemesis, so chances are you won't meet too many moms-to-be who know what you're going through. In fact, feeling misunderstood is often one of the most challenging parts of having the condition. If you're over well-meaning suggestions to just eat some crackers and sip ginger ale, consider finding a support group online. There, you'll meet women who are going through the same thing as you and who may be a great resource for solutions or encouragement. If nothing else, chatting with other sufferers can help you remember that you aren't weak or crazy—you just have HG.

Don't Lose Hope

Sure, hyperemesis is difficult, but it isn't permanent. Remember that there's a light at the end of the tunnel, and it will absolutely be worth the struggle. No, you probably won't feel grateful every moment of your journey, and that's okay. Mind-blowing nausea has a funny way of sucking away our gratitude. But trust that in the end, having a difficult pregnancy will probably make you appreciate motherhood—and not being pregnant—even more.