“I was close to death” – Mum shares pregnancy sickness experience to highlight importance of new study

A mum who was severely malnourished due to a pregnancy sickness condition has told of her ordeal; hoping it will encourage expectant mums to inform a new study at the University of Plymouth.

Sarah Titmus, from Coventry, had hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) in both of her pregnancies, experiencing severe and constant vomiting and nausea.

From seven weeks pregnant, she could not even keep a sip of water down. Her ordeal saw her hospitalised twice – and, on one occasion, her blood potassium levels had dropped (a state known as hypokalemia) to such a level that a doctor warned her she might not wake up in the morning without intensive care support.

Sarah, pictured here with her daughters, said:

"I lost four stones in weight and was told I was close to death.

"Fortunately both my daughters appear to be healthy and developing normally, but it’s a worry that the severe symptoms I suffered could have lifelong impacts for them and there isn’t enough knowledge about that. 

"Throughout both pregnancies, it was like having a 24-hour sickness bug for nine months.”

Now the University of Plymouth, in collaboration with Pregnancy Sickness Support, is inviting women less than 11 weeks pregnant to take part in a study exploring the nutritional intake and wellbeing of women experiencing severe pregnancy sickness, as well as their pregnancy outcomes.

Known as the NOURISH study, it hopes to identify if, and to what extent, their outcomes differ from counterparts experiencing mild to no symptoms – and provide vital evidence on the impact of the condition. Research to date suggests that malnutrition in pregnancy can have immediate and long term effects for the baby but the degree of malnutrition in women with HG has never actually been studied.

Dr Kate Maslin, Senior Research Fellow in Maternal and Child Health, explains why the study is so important.

“There so few studies out there that show who might be affected by HG and how it affects mother and baby. We need women with and without the condition to take part and help us provide more evidence on a condition that is so often misunderstood. We are especially interested to know more about eating habits as we know that women with severe sickness often struggle to keep down any food or fluids."

“All it involves is keeping a food diary on a phone app and taking part in some online questionnaires– all remote, all doable in your own time. We would love to hear from you if you are less than 11 weeks pregnant, over 18 years old and living in the UK.”

Caitlin Dean, Chair of Pregnancy Sickness Support, added:

“Around one per cent of people experience HG in pregnancy and, if someone has had it once, they’re much more likely to get it in a second pregnancy. Sarah’s experience is sadly not the only one – we deal with calls every day from women trying to live through it. It really is the most debilitating condition at a time that should be happy and exciting. For anyone who’s in the early stages of pregnancy, please get involved – do it for the mums of the future to ensure they have as much evidence-based support as possible.”

Sarah concluded:

“The truth is, so many people – health professionals included – don’t understand HG. My poor partner was acting as mum and dad to our eldest when I was pregnant with my second, as I was bedbound. It can put huge pressure on all the family. We need to know more about the long term impacts of the condition, so this research is vital.”

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