News

Severe Morning Sickness Linked to Depression During and After Pregnancy

young pregnant woman suffering from morning sickness

damircudic/E+/Getty

Key Takeaways

  • Hyperemesis gravidarum is a rare but serious pregnancy condition.
  • It's characterized by extreme morning sickness symptoms like nausea, vomiting and dehydration.
  • Moms who suffer from HG are far more likely to suffer from depression than pregnant women without nausea.

Moms-to-be who experience hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), a severe form of morning sickness, are much more likely to experience depression both during and after pregnancy, according to a recent study published in BMJ Open.

Brought to the spotlight by famous women like Kate Middleton and Amy Schumer who have gone through it, hyperemesis gravidarum is a rare disorder, but research has shown it can affect moms both physically and mentally and have a serious impact on a pregnancy. HG is marked by severe and persistent nausea and vomiting before the 20th week of pregnancy.

While the causality between hyperemesis gravidarum and depression is not yet fully explored, and possible causes of the condition itself are not entirely understood, it’s not difficult to see how these symptoms could lead to depressive symptoms in pregnancy.

HG Linked to Depression During Pregnancy

According to the study, almost 50% of moms-to-be who were dealing with HG also suffered depression during pregnancy, and nearly 30% went on to have symptoms of postpartum depression—a testament to the lasting effects of hyperemesis gravidarum.

Compared to women who did not experience HG during pregnancy, those who did were eight times more likely to report symptoms of depression during pregnancy, and four times more likely to experience postpartum depression.

These eye-opening statistics seem to indicate that women coping with HG require both physical and mental health care both during and after their pregnancy. This type of care is critical in ensuring that mom and baby forge a healthy bond at birth and in the months following.

With so much focus traditionally on the physical symptoms of pregnancy, it's important not to neglect the importance of general well-being during pregnancy, regardless of whether or you're dealing with HG and an increased risk of depression.

Jenny Morrow, RN

HG can actually cause a form of PTSD in mothers. They feel horrible, are often hospitalized and can be on bed rest for weeks on end, suffer dehydration, mineral and vitamin deficiencies, weight loss, and often are unable to work or take care of other children they have.

— Jenny Morrow, RN

“Mothers with depression can have low self-interest and low interest in bonding with their baby while in utero," says Jenny Morrow, RN, IBCLC, LCCE, RYT, a neonatal nurse, lactation consultant, childbirth educator, yoga instructor, and founder of Unique Footprints, a pregnancy and new mom resource. "Mom’s attachment to the baby during pregnancy predicts better attachment post birth. And attachment styles play a life-long role in establishing relationships.”

What Is HG?

Hyperemesis gravidarum is not your run-of-the-mill pregnancy nausea, says Morrow. Moms suffering from HG need much more than an occasional nap or a bit of “me time.” The condition can quickly lead to dehydration so severe that it can damage kidneys, and may cause harm to the developing fetus if left untreated.

Other possible complications for a baby born to a mother with untreated HG include low birth weight, low levels of amniotic fluid, kidney damage, and even preterm labor, says Morrow. But it is the lasting effect of hyperemesis gravidarum on moms, especially from a mental health perspective, that has health experts concerned.

Depression resulting from HG can’t be linked to one factor in particular, Morrow says. “HG can actually cause a form of PTSD in mothers. They feel horrible, are often hospitalized and can be on bed rest for weeks on end, suffer dehydration, mineral and vitamin deficiencies, weight loss, and often are unable to work or take care of other children they have. The complications that occur affect human cognition, behavior, and emotions and can result in depressive symptoms.”

What This Means For You

If you’re pregnant and experiencing hyperemesis gravidarum, it’s important to have both a medical and a personal support system that understands what you are going through. HG can be a dangerous condition for both you and your baby if left untreated. But comprehensive care that involves both physical and mental support can help ease the unpleasant symptoms of HG and help prevent depression during your pregnancy and after your baby is born.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Mitchell-Jones N, Lawson K, Bobdiwala S, et al. Association between hyperemesis gravidarum and psychological symptoms, psychosocial outcomes and infant bonding: a two-point prospective case–control multicentre survey study in an inner city setting. BMJ Open. 2020;10:e039715. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2020-039715

  2. Macle L, Varlet M-N, Cathébras P. Hyperemesis gravidarum: a rare but potentially severe complication of the first trimester of pregnancyRev Prat. 2010;60(6):759-764.

  3. Hizli D, Kamalak Z, Kosus A, Kosus N, Akkurt G. Hyperemesis gravidarum and depression in pregnancy: is there an association?. J Psychosom Obstet Gynaecol. 2012;33(4):171-175. doi:10.3109/0167482X.2012.717129

  4. Wegrzyniak LJ, Repke JT, Ural SH. Treatment of hyperemesis gravidarumRev Obstet Gynecol. 2012;5(2):78-84.

  5. Christodoulou-Smith J, Gold JI, Romero R, et al. Posttraumatic stress symptoms following pregnancy complicated by hyperemesis gravidarumJ Matern Fetal Neonatal Med. 2011;24(11):1307-1311. doi:10.3109/14767058.2011.582904

  6. Winston R, Chicot R. The importance of early bonding on the long-term mental health and resilience of childrenLondon J Prim Care (Abingdon). 2016;8(1):12-14. doi:10.1080/17571472.2015.1133012

  7. Gyamlani G, Geraci SA. Kidney disease in pregnancy: (Women’s health series)South Med J. 2013;106(9):519-525. doi:10.1097/SMJ.0b013e3182a5f137

  8. Petry CJ, Ong KK, Beardsall K, Hughes IA, Acerini CL, Dunger DB. Vomiting in pregnancy is associated with a higher risk of low birth weight: a cohort studyBMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2018;18(1):133. doi:10.1186/s12884-018-1786-1

  9. Agmon N, Sade S, Pariente G, et al. Hyperemesis gravidarum and adverse pregnancy outcomesArch Gynecol Obstet 300. 2019:347-353. doi:10.1007/s00404-019-05192-y

  10. Shim SM, Ryu AL, Kim YS. Acute Kidney Injury Arising from Severe Hyperemesis Gravidarum: Case Report with a Review of Literatures. Soonchunhyang Med Sci. 2015;21(1): 28-30. doi:10.15746/sms.15.007

  11. Vikanes ÅV, Støer NC, Magnus P, et al. Hyperemesis gravidarum and pregnancy outcomes in the Norwegian mother and child cohort – a cohort studyBMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2013;13:169. doi:10.1186/1471-2393-13-169

  12. Kjeldgaard HK, Eberhard-Gran M, Benth JŠ, Vikanes ÅV. Hyperemesis gravidarum and the risk of emotional distress during and after pregnancyArch Womens Ment Health. 2017;20(6):747-756. doi:10.1007/s00737-017-0770-5