Family and friends
Pregnancy sickness and HG is not just a challenge for the pregnant person but for their loved ones too. It can be absolutely horrendous to watch your partner, daughter, sister or friend suffer so much at what is usually a happy and exciting time.
This page offers information for those people involved in the care of someone with all degrees of nausea and vomiting in pregnancy (NVP), and the condition on the severe end of the spectrum, hyperemesis gravidarum (HG).
HG remains a largely misunderstood condition and those who suffer face a variety of challenges. The majority of women experience some nausea during pregnancy which makes it even harder for those suffering more than ‘normal’ to get their voices heard and receive the proper care, support, and treatment that they so desperately need. Any amount of nausea or sickness which affects their usual routine and restricts food and fluid intake, is beyond the usual expected pregnancy sickness and needs medical attention. Sufferers can become quickly dehydrated which is dangerous for both the baby and the pregnant person.
It can be hard for partners, family, and friends to truly understand quite how awful the unrelenting and constant nausea and vomiting can be and as a result many feel lost as to how best to help their loved ones. You may be faced with the challenge of advocating for them as they may be too sick or exhausted to advocate for themselves. Many carers of those suffering are also faced with the challenge of researching treatment options and coping strategies, as sadly many healthcare professionals are lacking in knowledge about how to treat NVP and HG and are inclined to tell families that the treatments pose a risk to the fetus without balancing this against the risks of not treating.
Please do contact us if you are struggling to access appropriate medical support for your loved one.
We also have a partner/carer support service which you can register for and gain support from those with HG experience and others going through the same journey as you. The support is given via a WhatsApp group. Simply complete the form and our Peer Support Coordinator will be in touch in due course.
Those suffering severe pregnancy sickness or hyperemesis gravidarum often report that they feel unable to speak up for themselves and explain how ill they are to healthcare professionals, employers and even family and friends. Many people say they feel like no one believes them or thinks they are exaggerating.
Often it is only their partner who sees how ill they actually are and is the one at home caring for them as best they can. Their partner is therefore well placed to speak up for their loved one and explain to others on their behalf just how ill they are.
Advocating with doctors
It's not easy though, particularly with healthcare professionals, who can at times seem intimidating and even unwilling to listen.
You may find it helpful to write down notes prior to the appointment. Try thinking about their symptoms, your concerns and any questions you might have. Here is an example of things to think about:
- How many times a day are they vomiting?
- How much fluid and food have they kept down in 24/hours?
- How often are they passing urine?
- Have they lost much weight?
- Is movement, sound, and smell triggering vomiting?
- What other symptoms are troubling?
- What are your main worries? i.e.. dehydration, weight loss, risks from being bedbound, leaving them to go to work, concerns over losing your jobs?
- Is it safer to take medication or not?
- If they are not being admitted now, then at what point should you be concerned that they need to go to hospital?
- What signs and symptoms should you look out which show it is more serious?
- What is the best route for speaking to the GP, can you email or phone to speak to them?
- Could you help by monitoring their fluid intake/output at home?
- Could the nurse teach you to give her intramuscular injections of their medications for times that they can’t manage oral ones? (It is very common for partners to administer injections during fertility treatments for example so the same can apply here)
- Is there any other support you can get with this?
Remember that it's okay to ask questions and ask for clarification if you aren't sure about something!
Advocating with employers
Your partner may need time off work to cope with their symptoms and this is not unusual for those suffering with pregnancy sickness, even when symptoms are relatively mild.
If your partner is admitted to hospital you may need to liaise with their employer on their behalf.
Advocating with family and friends
It is not uncommon for those with NVP or HG to experience a sense of disbelief about their symptoms from family and friends and this can be one of the most challenging aspects of the condition. Feeling like your family and friends have deserted you when you need them most can lead to a greater sense of isolation and loneliness for those already struggling physically.
Many people find explaining their symptoms to others difficult and so it can be helpful if their partner speaks on their behalf and explains to family and friends just how real and unpleasant the condition is for them.
Often when faced with illness people try to make helpful suggestions about thinking positively and trying alternative therapies or remedies like ginger biscuits. Generally, comments are not meant to be cruel, in fact they are genuinely trying to be kind, but often this can lead to a greater sense of isolation for the person suffering as suggestions can seem to undermine the severity of their experience. It may be useful to think of some answers for the more common suggestions.
Tips and advice for family and friends
Watching a loved one suffer with nausea and vomiting in pregnancy or hyperemesis gravidarum can be really tough and it can be harder still to know how best to help and support them. Here are some tips and advice from those who have been through it and what helped them:
- Text them regularly to let them know you are thinking of them
- Don't be upset if they don't return texts or phone calls straight away; it can be really hard to look at screens or talk on the phone when you are feeling/being sick
- Avoid being overly 'gushy' and excited about the baby and pregnancy; they may be feeling resentful about the baby and depressed about the pregnancy even if it was very much wanted and planned. By being too excited you may make them feel even more isolated.
- Try not to question them about the safety of medications they are on; if the doctor has prescribed them then it is because they need them. If you have concerns, then have a look at our treatment page for further information about the medications.
- If you are able, then offer to look after any older children for a couple of hours as and when you can.
- Remember that smells, bright lights, loud noises and other sensory stimulation can all bring on vomiting so try to reduce these factors for them (especially smells).
- If you bring food for the family, then make sure it is not strong smelling (cold food is best) and don't be upset if they themselves don't want to eat any food you have brought.
- Vomiting in front of others can be humiliating for some, so be sensitive to this.
- Try to listen without giving advice or telling them about other people's glowing pregnancies or people you know who were sick all the time but still went into work etc, remember that pregnancy sickness has a whole spectrum of severity from mild to life threatening!
- Bear in mind that some of the medications can cause mild drowsiness and confusion; be aware that they may find conversation a struggle; it can be nice to listen though.
- Offer to help around the house if you can, household chores often become near impossible for those who are bed bound with sickness.
Visitors do's and don'ts
- Offer to pick up any shopping or prescriptions on your way round.
- Bring some magazines and books (but bear in mind they may not be up to reading/watching) - Downloading some audio books could be something they would enjoy.
- If you go to the loo, give it a quick clean... there is not a lot worse than vomiting into an unclean toilet!
- If they are largely bed bound then offer to change/wash the bed sheet, be mindful scented washing products may trigger nausea or vomiting.
- If they are struggling with young children, then offer to play with them while they have a lie down.
- Make sure you wash any mugs or pots before you leave.
- Wear perfume.
- Smell of strong food, aromatic spices, garlic etc.
- Smoke before visiting.
- Bring flowers as a gift; as well meaning as they are the smell and colours can trigger vomiting.
- Expect her to make tea and coffee... make it yourself!
- Bring noisy children with you.
- Focus on the pregnancy or the illness; try to talk about 'normal' things.
- Leave any mess for her to clear up!
If you visit a friend or relative who is suffering with pregnancy sickness or hyperemesis gravidarum and you are concerned that they are very dehydrated (dry lips and mouth, dry skin etc) or they seem confused or drowsy then call their doctor or take them to hospital.
Here are some quotes from sufferers of hyperemesis gravidarum about how their friends could have helped:
"If you are a smoker, it might be best to stay away - or change clothes before you go round. Don't tell the sufferer that people usually start to feel better after 12 weeks - it gives false hope. Do tell them that they won't feel like this forever and there will be an end to it - when I was depressed, suffering from HG and pregnant with my first child, I thought I would never feel normal again!! Do go to the doctors with them and push for treatment for them - they may be too weak, tired, ill to push for it themselves and when you are feeling low arguing is the last thing that you want but it might be exactly what is needed to get the help they need. Give her a cuddle and let her cry if that’s what she wants to do and sometimes when you've got HG having a good cry is all you want to do." - Anne Burns, HG sufferer
"Never visit a person with hyperemesis and say you had morning sickness, you know what they are going through! It is NOT morning sickness!" - Sarah Vermillion Stevens, HG sufferer
"If she's laid up in bed make sure her surroundings are clean and there are sick bowls, tissues etc to hand. Physical contact (even close proximity) with older kids & partner may be difficult & sleeping arrangements may need to be altered for a while." - Asiyah Aziz, HG sufferer
"Under no circumstances mention the phrase "have you tried ginger?" or "I hear ginger helps" or "being sick is a good sign, means it's a healthy pregnancy". No help whatsoever to the HG sufferer!" - Pauline Turner, HG sufferer