Severe morning sickness during pregnancy can be serious

By: Jennifer McNulty, M.D., maternal-fetal medicine specialist, Cherese Mari Laulhere BirthCare Center, MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach

Pregnancy is often filled with mild discomforts, like swelling, constipation, heartburn and the dreaded “morning sickness.” Up to 80 percent of pregnant women experience some type of morning sickness, but some women may have severe nausea and vomiting, called hyperemesis gravidarum.

When a woman has severe nausea, vomiting, weight loss and abnormal electrolytes, they may be experiencing hyperemesis. Severe cases require a hospital stay, while mild cases can be treated with dietary changes and medications. If you feel like you may be experiencing hyperemesis gravidarum, call your obstetrician.

While there is no known cause for hyperemesis gravidarum, it is speculated to be related to the rise in hormone levels. It is important to evaluate the vomiting you are experiencing and distinguish it as traditional “morning sickness” or a more severe problem.

Hyperemesis gravidarum is characterized by:

  • Nausea with severe vomiting (compared to sometimes vomiting)
  • Vomiting that causes severe dehydration (compared to not having severe dehydration)
  • Vomiting that doesn’t allow you to keep food down (compared to keeping some food down)

Additional symptoms of hyperemesis gravidarum includes weight loss, decrease in urination, headaches, fainting and confusion.

A diagnosis of hyperemesis gravidarum, especially one that requires hospitalization, categorizes the pregnancy as high risk. If a pregnancy is high risk, the mother will see a maternal-fetal medicine specialist to care for her and the baby during pregnancy. A maternal-fetal medicine specialist is an obstetrician that has completed extra training to care for high-risk pregnancies.

The Cherese Mari Laulhere BirthCare Center at MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach has earned level IV maternity designation from the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine and The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. A level IV maternity center has the capabilities to care for the most critical, complex and fragile pregnancies.

At Miller Children’s & Women’s, maternal-fetal medicine specialists are in-house 24/7 to manage complex maternity and fetal care, including delivering babies. If the baby requires immediate care, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is just down the hall from the BirthCare Center. At other hospitals without these capabilities, the baby would need to be transported to a nearby hospital, and away from mom who is still recovering from delivery.

Maternal-fetal medicine specialists encourage vaginal deliveries whenever possible. Since they are experts in delivering babies in high-risk situations, they can guide the mother through the vaginal delivery rather than immediately doing a C-section in an unexpected situation. Miller Children’s & Women’s also has one of the lowest C-section rates in the region.

Women with high-risk pregnancies should come to a hospital like Miller Children’s & Women’s, so that the mother can obtain the best medical care for any condition she may have and in the event her baby needs to go to the NICU immediately following birth, they will not need to be transported away from each other.

Learn more about the specialists available for expert mother and baby care under one roof at Miller Children’s & Women’s.

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