The psychological consequences of pregnancy sickness

Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy (NVP) affects around 80% of pregnancies, with variation in severity and duration of symptoms. An estimated 2% of pregnant women (approximately 20,000 per year in the UK, 3 million per year worldwide) are diagnosed with Hyperemesis Gravidarum (HG), a chronic, debilitating medical condition that causes extreme nausea, excessive vomiting, severe dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and weight loss. Other common aspects of HG include distorted sense of smell, inability to eat normally, hypersalivation, and fatigue. Symptoms of HG can be exacerbated by movement and sensory stimulation, can leave women bedbound or housebound, and may require hospital treatment.

The psychological impacts of HG are complex. Women describe feeling overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, panicky, lonely, confused, embarrassed, distressed, disappointed, guilty, angry, abnormal, helpless, traumatised, or desperate. HG has a detrimental effect on quality of life, wellbeing, confidence, mood, capacity for personal care, parenting, work, relationships, sleep, self-esteem, identity, cognitive and physical functioning. Following HG pregnancy, approximately 18% of women meet the clinical criteria for PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) diagnosis. An estimated 10% of women terminate wanted pregnancies due to the intolerable nature of their HG suffering, inability to care for themselves or their families, and unhelpful attitudes of others. Many were not offered the full range of medical treatments or supports available.

Women often report that their HG suffering is minimised, disbelieved or dismissed by relatives, friends, colleagues, or health care professionals. It is vital for women to have opportunities to express their feelings and thoughts around their pregnancy illness, and to feel heard, understood and cared for. Counselling provides a safe, supportive space for women to talk about how pregnancy sickness is or was for them.

If you would like to read more about pregnancy sickness click here to visit the Pregnancy Sickness Support website.