sickness in pregnancy

How Sickness in Pregnancy affects your Mental Health

June 6, 2023

Many women suffer morning sickness in pregnancy. But there are also women who suffer from a more extreme version of this, medically known as severe nausea and vomiting in pregnancy (NVP) or hyperemesis gravidarum (HG). These are much more than just ‘normal morning sickness’ and research shows it can have a huge impact on the mental health of the mum.

Hannah our resident sleep coach also focuses on Perinatal Mental Health and has some more advice on how this can affect your mental health…

Feelings of isolation, depression, anxiety, guilt & fear are very common for sufferers of more severe sickness. Despite clear research that shows women experiencing these conditions are much more susceptible to depression and anxiety, very few healthcare professionals acknowledge it or ask about the impact of the sickness on their mental health.

So how is it different to morning sickness?

Sickness in pregnancy is a spectrum and will look different for each mum:

Mild Nausea and vomiting in Pregnancy (NVP) – Often called morning sickness, (this can occur at any time of day). You can usually go about your normal routine without too much hindrance, and symptoms usually ease after the first trimester. 

  • Typically, short bouts of mild nausea and/or occasional vomiting
  • Generally, no negative physical or mental impact
  • Can be managed through diet and lifestyle changes
  • An often expected and wanted experience (as we’re told it shows signs of a healthy pregnancy).

Moderate – Severe NVP – Often mistaken for mild NVP, leading to a barrier in treatment and patients downplaying their symptoms to their healthcare professionals, family, and friends. It can last for 20 weeks and beyond and have much more impact on your day-to-day life.

  • Nausea is more persistent and affecting food and fluid intake
  • Vomiting and retching more often
  • Some people experience excessive saliva 
  • Diet and lifestyle alterations may help but medication is most likely appropriate
  • Emotional and psychological support may be needed
  • Quality of life impacted
  • May lose weight

Hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) is a condition at the extreme end of the pregnancy sickness spectrum. It affects approximately 3% of people is incredibly debilitating for sufferers. It is important that you seek medical attention to remain hydrated.

  • Approximately 30,000 pregnancies per year in the UK suffer from HG
  • May begin very early, even before a positive test
  • Symptoms peak at 9-13 weeks, can improve around 16-24 weeks but may continue throughout the whole pregnancy
  • Weight loss is severe and rapid, and dehydration is common
  • If not managed appropriately complications can ensue
  • Medical treatment is necessary
  • Psychological support is beneficial
  • Spectrum condition, not all HG looks the same
  • 1 in 5 people with severe HG will have symptoms throughout their whole pregnancy

What many don’t realise, is that those who suffer from moderate or severe NVP, or HG are not experiencing common morning sickness. When your day-to-day life becomes impacted, or you can no longer carry on with normal rhythms, medical support should be sought.

So how does it impact mental health?

For those suffering, it can feel isolating, lonely, debilitating & scary. It means you are not able to enjoy pregnancy and it can sometimes feel unbearable.

For many, there are added issues of being told by friends, family or health care professionals “It’s normal, it’ll pass” which makes sufferers feel even worse and isolated.

The best place to go for support is Pregnancy Sickness Support (PSS). They are the only UK-registered charity that supports families with these conditions and are pushing to improve care and support for those suffering. They offer peer support, and HG counselling, and have a helpline you can call. They also have so much information on their website which equips you with knowledge and information, including how to approach doctors and ask for more support and help, which was invaluable to me during my second pregnancy.

If you are struggling with sickness in pregnancy and it is making you feel low or isolated, please reach out for support. You aren’t failing, what you’re experiencing isn’t ‘just the norm’ and there is support out there.

If you know someone experiencing NVP or HG, here is how you can help:

  • Check-in with them regularly
  • Offer practical support – cleaning, laundry, cooking meals so they don’t need to cook (the smell of cleaning products or food can be very triggering)
  • If you take food, ask them what their ‘safe foods’ are
  • Offer to go with them to medical appointments to help advocate for them if they are not able to
  • Read up about it (from Pregnancy sickness support) so you can understand it better
  • Listen to how they are feeling, and don’t offer advice unless asked for it!

Don’t say:

  • It’s normal & it will pass
  • Have you tried ginger?
  • Have you tried travel sickness bands?
  • It’s good, it means the baby is healthy!
  • I think you’re being a bit overdramatic, everyone gets morning sickness

Hope you have found this useful.

Hannah x

Posted in: , ,