A new study finds severe morning sickness is associated with depression – an association that may last after pregnancy. Many people learned about hyperemesis gravidarum when Catherine, the Duchess of Cambridge, was hospitalized for the condition, which she experienced with all three pregnancies.

Researchers at Imperial College London found that women with hyperemesis gravidarum, a severe form of morning sickness that occurs in the early stages of pregnancy, are at a greater risk of depression during and after pregnancy. The team observed the link in a clinical trial of more than 200 women and published their findings in the online medical journal BMJ Open.

Pregnancy causes many changes in women, from hormone levels to mood swings. Sometimes these effects last long after the baby is delivered.

One of the most common complaints in pregnancy is morning sickness, which occurs most often in the first trimester. It can cause nausea and vomiting, often triggered by odors or food.

Contrary to what the term implies, pregnant women can experience morning sickness at any time of the day or even the whole day. While it can be unpleasant for the mother, morning sickness doesn’t put the baby at risk. Most often, morning sickness goes away by weeks 16 to 20 of pregnancy. Some women, however, may develop the severe version of morning sickness – hyperemesis gravidarum.

Women who are experiencing morning sickness that seems worse than they expected should consult with their physician.




The study

The researchers investigated the effect of hyperemesis gravidarum on 214 pregnant women from three London hospitals. Half of the women showed signs of hyperemesis gravidarum, while the other half had no significant nausea or vomiting. None of the participants had received treatment for mental health conditions within the past year. The researchers performed psychological assessments of participants in the first trimester and six weeks after giving birth.


The psychological assessments showed that 49% of those women with hyperemesis gravidarum experienced depression during pregnancy. Only 6% of women without hyperemesis gravidarum experienced the same thing. After giving birth, 29% of women with hyperemesis gravidarum still reported being depressed, compared to 7% of women without the condition.

Nicola Mitchell-Jones, MD, the study’s lead author, said in a press release that women with hyperemesis gravidarum have an eight times greater risk of depression during pregnancy. After pregnancy, they have four times more risk of depression. The risk rates indicated the need for mental health support not just from healthcare professionals, but from the spouse, family and friends.

“Too often their partners, relatives or work colleagues are not providing the support they need because they fail to understand the severity of what these women are going through,” said Dr. Mitchell-Jones, a specialist registrar in obstetrics and gynecology.

Relation to the Maternal Bond

The researchers also looked into the bond between the mothers and their babies. There did not appear to be a link or a direct impact of hyperemesis gravidaru on that bond. However, previous studies have shown that depression can have a negative impact. The authors noted that eight women with hyperemesis gravidarum terminated their pregnancies. Earlier, the women had wanted to keep their babies, so depression may have had a role in the decision.

Depression After Pregnancy

Women who are depressed during pregnancy may continue to feel depressed after giving birth. This may be related to “baby blues,” the different emotions sometimes associated with having a new baby, such as anxiety, crying spells and mood swings.

Family members should keep an eye on the new mother if she is showing signs of baby blues, because this can suggest postpartum depression, a more severe mood disorder partly related to fluctuating hormones. Mothers who experience postpartum depression should consult their doctor. Children of mothers with untreated postpartum depression may experience behavioral and emotional problems.

The Take Home

Untreated severe morning sickness may result in depression. The unpleasant experience can have a severe effect on overall quality of life for both mother and family.

If you are experiencing severe morning sickness, speak with your doctor Early diagnosis of hyperemesis gravidarum may lead to early treatment. The more treatment options available, the more choices a woman can have to fit her situation.

Ralph Chen is an enthusiast of medical topics and advanced technologies. When not writing, he spends time playing popular PC games.