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Hyperemesis Gravardium, Post-Partum and Eating Disorders: What signs to look out for.

pregnant woman with HG at doctors office

What is Hyperemesis?

Hyperemesis gravidarum, also known as HG, is a severe and debilitating condition that can affect pregnant individuals. HG causes relentless and excessive nausea and vomiting during pregnancy. Unlike the more common morning sickness, hyperemesis gravidarum can be particularly distressing, leading to severe dehydration, weight loss, and a significant decline in overall quality of life. Even with early treatment and medication for symptom reduction, many women do not find relief until after birth.

Hyperemesis Gravardium and Eating Disorders in Postpartum

A common concern many HG survivors face in postpartum is navigating their relationship with food. Many clients find their relationship with food and body image to be extremely difficult and sometimes chaotic in the postpartum period. A large percentage of Hyperemesis Gravardium clients experience postpartum emotional eating, binge eating episodes, and other disordered eating patterns.

This is not a surprise after nine months of severe vomiting, dehydration, food aversion, weight loss, and other medical complications. Unfortunately, it is another battle HG survivors may face. HG is a unique medical illness, where physically you experience uncontrolled vomiting, however, psychologically the desire to eat and nourish your growing baby is still present. This creates a psychological dilemma of Illness-related food deprivation and helplessness. The psychological stress created by starvation, deprivation, chronic vomiting, nausea and food aversion can deeply harm the ability to eat intuitively.

Some aspects of HG-related trauma can be medical complications, hospitalizations, and minimization of the severity or authenticity of illness by medical providers. HG-related trauma can also present as a desire to control food, food aversion, flashbacks of vomiting, fear of vomiting, and intrusive thoughts related to the time of HG. This leads to a very distressing relationship with food, eating and body image during the post-partum period.

Delivery often marks the end of nausea and vomiting symptoms for those diagnosed with HG. For others, it can take a few days for the HG symptoms to fully resolve. However, many report their ability to resume eating as both exciting and fearful due to food's connection to uncontrollable illness.

Hyperemesis Gravardium increases risk for Postpartum Depression and Anxiety

Even with the remission of nausea and vomiting, those who faced HG through pregnancy still face underlying depression, anxiety, and trauma. This can be greatly exacerbated by the exhaustion and lack of sleep a newborn brings. This increases the risk for future diagnoses of postpartum diagnoses of depression, anxiety and OCD. Many report their relationship with food feels out of control, fears of eating too much, fears of vomiting returning, and eating large quantities of food. The psychological experience of starvation, deprivation, and malnutrition coincide with patterns of disordered eating. Feeling out of control once again with food can propel new mothers deeper into a binge-restrict cycle.

Warning Signs for Postpartum Eating Disorders

Signs you are struggling with Binge Eating in Postpartum:

  • eating large amounts of food and rapidly eating

  • eating in secret, hiding wrappers or the evidence

  • feeling guilt and shame after eating

  • feeling out of control with food

  • can lead to feeling physically sick

  • urges to eat when not hungry

Signs you are struggling with Emotional Eating in Postpartum:

  • eating in response to emotions both positive or negative

  • soothing or coping with food

  • eating for relaxation or escape

  • eating when not hungry

When it's time to get help:

  • Your loss of control over food and emotions is getting worse or hasn't changed

  • You have more days struggling with food than not

  • Food and eating is your only enjoyable activity

  • You need support with nutritional rehabilitation

  • You feel immense shame and guilt after eating

Ways to address disordered eating and emotional eating during the postpartum period:

Navigating Intuitive Eating in Postpartum

  1. Reject the bounce-back and snap-back culture

  2. Honor your Hunger

  3. Make peace with food and give yourself permission to eat all foods

  4. Explore foods that feel satisfying, including textures, tastes, temperatures and smells

  5. Feel your fullness and satiety

  6. Learn to cope with your emotions in new ways

  7. Joyful movement, Body respect, and body neutrality

  8. Adopt a gentle nutrition mindset

  9. Get Help

There are many ways to seek help. Consult a therapist, psychiatrist, and doctor for postpartum mental health concerns and underlying mental health complications of HG.

Authored by, Sasha Taylor, LMFT, CEDS. Eating Disorder Specialist and Perinatal Mental Health Therapist in Claremont, CA.

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