Severe Morning Sickness Linked to Depression During and After Pregnancy

young pregnant woman suffering from morning sickness


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.

12 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.
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By Christin Perry
Christin Perry is a freelance writer and editor. Her work has been published in The Bump, The Knot, Scary Mommy, LittleThings, Parents, Qeepsake, and more. She has experience writing email marketing campaigns, website copy, and SEO-optimized content. Christin is also a mom of three.