Charter for Choice

Caitlin Dean, Pregnancy Sickness Support: Women suffering from Hyperemesis Need Compassion – Not Condescension

Caitlin Dean, is the Vice Chair Trustee of Pregnancy Sickness Support and author of two books about Hyperemesis. A registered Nurse, Caitlin also writes the the popular Spewing Mummy blog. 

When you think of pregnancy discomforts for most people Morning Sickness springs to mind. We all know about it and expect it and many women look forward to it as a rite of passage and a sign of a healthy pregnancy. Around 80% of pregnant women will get it and while it’s not very nice it’s also not harmful.

However, for some women, symptoms become abnormal early on and morning sickness rapidly becomes a nightmare they never expected. Around 30% of pregnant women will need time off work due to the severity of symptoms. There aren’t many jobs you can do while puking up multiple times a day! This can put huge financial strain on families, looking after other children and paying bills can be compromised.

1-2% of pregnant women will get symptoms which are so severe they are rendered bedbound, suffer dehydration and rapid weight loss. These women have a serious complication of pregnancy called hyperemesis gravidarum (HG). Most women with HG require weeks or even months off work, hospital admission for IV fluid replacement, medication to get symptoms under control and emotional support. The mental health toll can be profound as the traumatic symptoms can last many months, even the duration of the pregnancy and complications of HG can linger for years.

You would think that pregnant women with a serious complication would get expert treatment from compassionate professionals, families would rally and employers would express supportive concern. Yet that is a long way from most women’s experience in the UK today.

Not only do women with HG face a daily battle to control symptoms, stay hydrated and keep food down, but they face a battle to be taken seriously by doctors and midwives, to be given treatment and care. They face discrimination from employers and unhelpful remarks from relatives about pulling themselves together and getting on with it… “you’re only pregnant!”.

And so it’s no wonder that around 10% of these wanted and longed for pregnancies are ended in termination. Fear for the mother’s own health, fear about losing their jobs and home, fear about not being able to care for their other children and doctors perpetuating myths about hypothetical medication risks leave couples feeling like they have no other choice but to end the pregnancy.

But there is another way! There are some doctors across the UK who do treat hyperemesis with the compassion and respect the condition deserves. Who utilise the numerous medications known to be safe for mum and baby in a timely and appropriate manner. Doctors who rehydrate women in ways that least disrupt her work and family so she can maintain the pregnancy without financial hardship. Doctors and midwives who signpost women to the emotional support offered by Pregnancy Sickness Support and to people who can help with employment issues.

These are the doctors we want to see across the UK. In every hospital and GP surgery. This is the care these women and their babies deserve.

It is achievable… It is already being done, now lets roll it out.