This week, we learned that Princess Kate is expecting her third baby. Now, offensive reactions to third babies aside, the Duchess of Cambridge isn’t just reminding the world that it’s okay to have more than 2.2 kids. She’s also shedding light on a terrible pregnancy condition: hyperemesis gravidarum. While this condition is pretty rare—it affects less than 3 percent of pregnant women—it’s important to know about so you can recognize the signs in pregnant ladies in your life and offer support.
Here’s five fast and easy things to know about hyperemesis.
1. It’s Not Just Morning Sickness
Perhaps one of the most frustrating comments a pregnant woman with hyperemesis hears is that it’s just morning sickness. Rather, it’s defined by the HER (Hyperemesis Education & Research) group as: “loss of greater than 5% of pre-pregnancy body weight (usually over 10%), dehydration and production of ketones, nutritional deficiencies, metabolic imbalances, difficulty with daily activities.”
I had hyperemesis pretty terribly with my fourth baby, and I ended up getting home health care, IV nutrition and medications at home, and a PICC line since constant IVs were wrecking my veins. It was miserable. I’m lucky—I have a really supportive husband, and had friends and a church community that stepped up to help with my other children and provided meals for my family. I was also fortunate to have a fantastic OB who provided compassionate supportive care and listened to me cry. Far from just some nausea and vomiting, hyperemesis reached into every part of my health and pregnancy.
2. For Many Women, There’s No Cure—But There Is Treatment
Some women have great success with anti-nausea medications, both over the counter and prescription. Unfortunately, sometimes these medications aren’t able to stop the vomiting and nausea, and women end up with electrolyte imbalances and malnutrition.
Thanks to modern medicine, however, doctors have a lot of supportive medical treatments they can offer mothers that they didn’t have a century ago. Mothers rarely die or lose their babies from hyperemesis, and this is because modern medicine rocks.
Despite medical treatments, it’s vital to note that the third recommended treatment for hyperemesis is still “therapeutic abortion.” We need to keep working to provide families and women with treatments that don’t end the lives of their babies. It’s unacceptable for wanted and loved babies to be lost because of hyperemesis.
3. Having Hyperemesis Once Makes You More Likely To Have It Again
This part of hyperemesis is really discouraging. Having hyperemesis during a pregnancy seems to predispose a mother to having it again. This has been the case for Princess Kate, and she’s been pretty open about her struggles. She has to miss public engagements, and she’s under close care by her doctors.
4. It Changes Life For The Whole Family
Most of us don’t have nannies to help with our other kids. We don’t have maids or personal cooks. Life keeps rolling around us, and this means that it can be really tough to mesh the needs of a family with debilitating illness. In an increasingly mobile society, families don’t always have extended kin nearby, and this means that isolation can make hyperemesis seem so much worse.
If you know of a family who is struggling, reach out. Offer help—whether it’s via making meals, offering childcare, or being a shoulder to cry on. If your family is suffering, don’t hide it and pretend that everything is okay. Use Princess Kate’s sickness, if you need an icebreaker.
5. It’s Not a Reason to Quit Having Babies
Kids are pretty awesome, even when they’re hard to have. Since earlier treatment improves outcomes, talk to your OB about how to get help right away with future pregnancies. Consider setting up a preconception plan to try to minimize your suffering, and keep track of what specific things helped or made things worse.
Hyperemesis is terrible, and I’m so sorry that the Duchess is suffering. Thanks to modern medicine, treatment options and prevention will keep increasing. In the meantime, if you’re trying to explain why it’s more than morning sickness, explain that you’re dealing with the same thing as Princess Kate.