Is it even possible to eat while suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum?
The answer is… SORT OF
With persistent nausea and vomiting, eating is likely the last but also the only thing on a pregnant woman’s mind. She wants to eat – she wants to eat SO badly! But she also doesn’t want to eat because eating would mean vomiting and she really… REALLY… doesn’t want to vomit anymore.
The following tips may sound very extreme, but that’s what hyperemesis gravidarum is. It’s not just a bit of nausea – it’s an actual inability to eat food without vomiting it back up again… for months on end. Eating sounds impossible, but with a few strategic tips – it’s entirely possible to avoid being fed through a tube.
Here are a few tips for how to stay nourished during those nine long months.
Tip #1: Accept thy curse
The trick to eating while suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum is to accept the fact that nothing you eat will stay down. But you will need to find ways to get nutrients into your body anyway, in order for you and your baby to survive, and to reduce the need to be hospitalized and fed through a tube. The sooner you can accept the fact that you’re in this for the entire pregnancy, the less chance you have of risking a hospital stay.
ACCEPT that you will feel like crap every single day of your pregnancy until the day that baby pops out of you and not one second before.
DON’T expect to feel better after vomiting as if you just ate some bad shrimp.
ACCEPT that no home remedy for morning sickness will help you.
DON’T count down the days until the end of the first trimester, expecting it to go away.
ACCEPT that you are strong enough to do this and that the benefits will greatly outweigh the struggle in the end.
DON’T tell others that you are fine when you are clearly suffering. Tell them how to help you.
Tip #2: Every Second Counts
Don’t avoid eating altogether, just because you know that it’s going to come back up again. If you can keep something in your stomach for just 5 minutes, then it’s better than nothing at all.
There are some characteristics to look for when choosing a food for this purpose:
Fast absorption: Liquids absorb faster than solids. Electrolyte drinks can help battle dehydration or you can try making your own if you find them too sugary. Fresh made juices, smoothies or clear broth are another good option. Try to avoid drinking plain water (see Tip #3).
High in vitamins and nutrients: Try to go as healthy as possible. Meal replacement drinks, fresh made juices or vegetable soup have all the good stuff without the junk, because you don’t have any time to waste. There are several specific vitamins and minerals worth focusing on.
Smooth texture: If it goes down easy – it will come up easy. It may seem disturbing to have to choose a food based on what it will be like coming back up, but that is exactly what you will need to do to survive HG. Contrary to popular belief, things like sweet, juicy fruit like apples, berries and melons (which you WILL crave while dehydrated and nauseous) may not be the best option. The natural fruit juices get absorbed very quickly leaving the pulp behind which is extremely unpleasant coming back up. If you absolutely must have fruit, then blend it into a juice or smoothie first.
Curdle Factor: Yet another disturbing characteristic, consider which foods will curdle in your stomach before they make a re-appearance. I craved milk (and cereal) during my pregnancies and it was extremely unpleasant coming back up in chunks. Most dairy-based items will be the same and can cause even more disturbances on an upset stomach. Clear fluids are the better option.
Tip #3: Avoid Water
I know this sounds counter-productive for someone who is battling dehydration but plain old-fashioned water is one of the hardest things to drink with HG.
Water can often induce vomiting when you have an extra sensitive stomach, especially after eating something. It seems to stir everything up in the stomach and cause more damage than good.
Staying hydrated is essential and some alternatives to water include:
Natural mineral water: the fizziness sometimes helps, sometimes makes it worse. Try a flavored water (like citrus) to see if it appeals to you.
Coconut water: try it both cold and at room temperature to see which you prefer, as this can change the flavor.
Popsicles (or anything frozen): they melt slowly which can sit better than having liquid go straight into your stomach. Those made with fresh fruit are also a great option, but avoid added sugar as it can irritate the stomach. Beware of flavors that are too sweet or sour as the taste buds will be in overdrive.
Ice chips: if all else fails and you’re not able to keep down any liquids at all, then sucking on ice chips is one way to stay hydrated.
It sounds extreme but it’s not at all unusual for a woman with hyperemesis gravidarum to be unable to keep down even a sip of water to take her prenatal vitamins or prescription anti-emetics (I speak from experience).
Tip #4: Tiny Portions
I’m not exaggerating when I say tiny.
Small portions are usually recommended for nausea and vomiting but I’m not just talking about “small.” When I say “tiny” I mean, “itty-bitty-not-enough-food-for-a-mouse”…
Try one tablespoon of food or liquid every 10-15 minutes.
If it stays down, have another and so on.
If it doesn’t stay down, try half a tablespoon.
You can also try experimenting with different ways to eat or drink. Try drinking through a straw vs. no straw, a spoon vs. sipping, hot vs. cold. You may have to think outside the box and even try using syringes or shot glasses to take tiny sips of liquid.
Keep experimenting with tiny portions. It may seem tedious and pointless but one spoonful of food is better than none at all.
I know the pain of hyperemesis gravidarum all too well having battled it with all three of my pregnancies.
It’s easy to avoid eating all together in an effort to avoid vomiting when that’s all you’ve been doing for weeks. But starvation, dehydration and malnutrition are far worse things to struggle with than vomiting.