How I Survived Hyperemesis Gravidarum: Food & lifestyle Changes
Just days after I found out I was pregnant, a familiar feeling of nausea crept up like a bad dream. No matter how much I did any of my morning rituals to feel fresh and start my day, I still felt gross. To make matters worse, the smell of pretty much any toothpaste made me gag and the lingering taste of it left me holding back puking until I ate something that washed the taste away.
And I’m not talking about typical Morning Sickness here (which isn’t fun for anyone), this was the start of Hyperemesis Gravidarum — a chronic, severe case of morning sickness, which leaves you running to the nearest sink, toilet, or trash can for the next inevitable body-clenching, projectile vomiting session. As if that weren’t bad enough, other symptoms also include flu-like chills and extreme lethargy. Only a small percentage of women experience the joy of this kind of morning sickness, and I was among the ‘lucky’ few!
Here’s what I did to help keep the HG at bay best I could. I hope some of these help you or someone you know. It can feel like torture in isolation.
Don’t be afraid to vomit. I found myself feeling down after I’d get sick and so in the beginning, I tried to hold it in and resist the urge. I soon discovered that whenever I’d let it out, I’d feel relief right away. Holding it in would only make me not want to eat anything and feel tortured until I slept it off.
Eat what you crave… and eat it right away. If your body is telling you something, act on it. People will recommend Saltines (which turned into paste in my dry mouth and made me want to puke), but those never helped. Coincidence or not, I’ve never thrown up something I ate when I craved it. And yes, I have craved some things I am SMH about… Spaghetti O’s with meatballs, corn dogs, packaged ramen, and Root Beer Floats. Each OB’s recommendation varies, but mine said to eat whatever I can and to start eating healthy when I’m feeling better.
Figure out your magic number. Eating small meals/snacks every 1.5 hours helped keep the nausea down. If I waited more than two hours, I’d feel sick. This included eating throughout the night, so keep palatable snacks at bedside. Keep track of how often you need to eat to avoid feeling nauseous.
GO TO URGENT CARE OR TO THE HOSPITAL if you aren’t able to hold down water and are feeling dehydrated. I went after five days of zero appetite, throwing up water and everything else. Two bags of fluids and a prescription for Diclegis later, I had an appetite and though the vomiting continued, I was able to eat and drink again. I didn’t realize how dehydrated I was and that’s a scary thing for the baby’s health.
It’s ok to put things on the back burner. In a world of constant social media-induced FOMO, there’s pressure to keep truckin’ even when your tank is empty. I reluctantly put a pause on my column with the newspaper and stopped writing on Hey Jess until my symptoms lessened. I threw up every time I spent more than 15 minutes looking at my computer, focusing on the words triggered migraines and nausea. And luckily, I was able to take a break from these things. If you’re not able to, just do as much as you can at your own pace. Get a doctor’s note and PLEASE don’t be a martyr. Any reasonable employer will understand this is a special circumstance.
Ask for help. With the exception of Mark and my sweet mother taking care of me after a couple operations, I’m typically the type to offer help and not “need” help. I wasn’t good at asking for help, or “receiving,” as my spiritual coach put it – and this experience made me not only ask for it, but allowed me to practice accepting help and expressing gratitude for it. My mom stayed with us and assisted with everything from early mornings with Wes, making snacks and meals, and playing with him when I felt like the life was literally sucked out of me. Mark stepped in, in a major way and increased the time he spent with Wes, got him out of the house for fun activities, and took him in the pool almost every day.
Try new things until you find what works. From food, to activities, to smells, to stimulation, etc., I highly suggest trying things that might usually sound odd until you find what helps you. Strangely, my go-to snack became a well-toasted (very specific here) English muffin with a medium spread of peanut butter, and a small amount of honey. I could ONLY drink water if it was cold and loaded with ice (room temperature made me sick). Fresh air and getting down to the beach when it wasn’t too hot outside helped me feel good – though I quickly learned the walk to the beach took more energy than I had and wiped me out completely for the rest of the day. My Invisalign retainers triggered my gag-reflex, so I had to put them on as soon as I began to drift off at bedtime and not a moment before.
Take care of your emotional wellbeing. I watched the entire Harry Potter collection because (except for the whole Dumbledore, Serius Black, and Dobby dying parts) the stories filled me up and there’s so much love in them. I started to feel blue laying in bed, week after week, unable to play with Wes, go on fun dates with Mark, talk to friends, etc… and since reading and writing only made me feel worse, I began playing the ukulele again. Mark and I sang before bedtime and it was such a nice way to fill my soul, stimulate my creativity, and stay connected with my loving husband, during a period when connection was scarce.
Followup: I began writing this post a month after the HG started and thought I was recovered. I made it to suggestion number 5 before running to the bathroom to get sick and ended up with a migraine the rest of the day. It took another 2 months to feel good enough to complete the post.
You’ll get through the nausea, vomiting, and flu-like symptoms. I promise there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. Put projects on hold. Your marriage will survive. Your little one will forgive you for being a vomiting zombie. Take good care of yourself and do what makes you feel good, fills you up in whatever way you can, and keep searching for ways to add joy and tenderness into your life.
My Hyperemesis Gravidarum Diet & Routine:
This is a personal diet that worked for me — if anything sounds disgusting to you, definitely skip it!
Sipped water & watered down iced tea loaded with ice. The moment the ice melted, I couldn't drink it anymore. If you're stomach still turns after drinking water, try ice chips.
Food I could rely on:
Ate ½ to a whole banana before bed and immediately in the morning.
Japanese rice with soy sauce and strained canned tuna.
Banana/almond milk/ice smoothie (sipped).
These very well toasted items: Pop tarts, raisin bread with cream cheese, English muffin with medium spread of peanut butter and a small amount of honey.
Hummus and pretzels.
Food that made me sick:
Applesauce and saltines, even though they're recommended (saltines turned into paste in my dry mouth).
The Fizzy morning sickness drinks, Preggy pops.
I had to use toothpaste sparingly and rinse my mouth out thoroughly or the taste would make me sick.
Fresh air, soaking my feet/legs in cold water – in the ocean, or in the soak by Pink Stork (flakes from the dead sea morning sickness salts).
This is going to sound weird — if I felt nauseous but not to the point of throwing up, I'd stick my tongue out and gently close my mouth on it, inhale slowly through my nose. It provided immediate relief.
I had to avoid hot weather and did my best to keep my body temperature regulated – not too cold or hot. Either extreme made me feel sick.
Grapefruit scented lotions, soaps and shave creams were the most refreshing scent.
Eating something before showering helped keep my blood sugar high enough that I wouldn’t feel like passing out after a 10-minute shower.
Sea sick bands helped in the beginning and acupuncture didn't help for me personally, but it depends on the individual.
Is there something I missed that helped you dramatically during this challenging time? Please share your tips for dealing with morning sickness and Hyperemesis Gravidarum with the community in the comment section below — let’s help each other through this!