Does Hyperemesis Gravidarum Harm Your Baby? Experts Weigh In

Chatter about Kate Middleton typically involves her impeccable style, worthy work as a mental health advocate, and various roles as the Duchess of Cambridge. But upon announcing her third pregnancy, familiar terminology associated with her name and pregnancy began to circulate, and it's rather hard to pronounce — hyperemesis gravidarum. Women who experience this condition during pregnancy say the severe nausea and vomiting doesn't even compare to run-of-the-mill morning sickness. Doctors say that severe complications are rarely associated with the condition, but does hyperemesis gravidarum harm your baby?

“Experiencing nausea with pregnancy can be completely normal, especially during the first 12 weeks when nausea is expected for a healthy pregnancy," Dr. Sherry Ross, an OB-GYN and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells Romper in an email interview. "When you experience vomiting, especially persistent vomiting such as hyperemesis gravidarum, this can be a potential problem for you and the developing baby."

Dr. Allison Hill, OB-GYN and author of Your Pregnancy, Your Way, tells Romper in an email interview that while 50 to 90 percent of women experience nausea during the first trimester, about 2 percent of women go on to develop hyperemesis gravidarum, a severe form of morning sickness. "These women have so much nausea and vomiting that they develop nutritional deficiencies, weight loss of at least 5 percent, dehydration, and metabolic imbalances," she says. Hill notes that the cause of hyperemesis gravidarum is thought to be a reaction to the elevated levels of estrogen and the hormone hCG that accompany pregnancy. She says women are more likely to develop the condition if they are carrying twins, have a history of nausea with birth control pill use, or have previously suffered from heartburn.

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If you do receive a diagnosis of hyperemesis gravidarum, then take note that your doctor is checking your urine during each prenatal visit to make sure you are not depriving the baby of important nutrients needed during pregnancy, Ross adds.

"This is the best indicator to know if the vomiting is significant and needs special medical attention," she says. Ross notes that while most healthy pregnancies have some degree of morning sickness, the nausea and vomiting should not prevent a pregnant woman from drinking or eating for more than a 24-hour period. If that's the case, then it’s time to take next steps to address it with your healthcare provider. "You know your body the best and if you are feeling tired or unable to tolerate foods and fluids for prolonged periods of time, then you need to bring it to the attention of your doctor," she says.

Hill points out that, while hyperemesis gravidarum may prevent you from eating normally, your fetus will continue to grow by taking whatever it needs from the vitamins and minerals stored in your body, especially during the first trimester when the developing fetus is small and doesn’t require many calories for growth.

"Although hyperemesis is an uncomfortable and often miserable condition, with modern medication and treatment, severe complications are rare," she says, adding that maternal mortality is virtually nonexistent. "There is no difference in birth weight for babies born to mothers with hyperemesis, as long as the woman catches up with appropriate weight gain in the second half of her pregnancy," Hill notes. "There is also no increase in birth defects in these babies."

Make sure to pack in healthy calories by munching on whole grain bread and crackers, fruits and veggies, and healthy fats from avocados and raw nuts — or whatever you can eat that doesn't come back up. One trick that worked for a friend of mine who was trying to stay healthy while spending most of her time over the toilet was to blend smoothies that were packed with nutrient-rich foods she couldn't bear to swallow, but could tolerate sipping. Don't forget to also drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.

And as always with pregnancy woes, take heart. At the moment, you might want to kick me in my lady parts for saying this, but the prize really is worth the pain.

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