London - For most expectant mothers the occasional bout of nausea in the early stages of pregnancy is a matter of course. But for some, severe morning sickness can make life miserable and even threaten the health of both mother and baby.
Denise Soden was one such mother-to-be - rushed to hospital 13 times and losing three stone in weight during her first pregnancy in 1997.
“When I discovered I was pregnant I was delighted - but within six weeks life was hell and I was regretting having ever considered having children,” explains Denise, now 38, who lives with her husband Matthew, 40, a sales executive, in Watford, Hertfordshire.
“I could barely lift my head off the pillow without vomiting and I couldn’t eat a thing. By the end of my first pregnancy I had been sick about 2,500 times.”
Despite its name, morning sickness can be experienced at any time of day. It usually begins four to six weeks into a pregnancy and subsides within 12. Extreme morning sickness or hyperemesis gravidarum (HG) affects one in 50 pregnant women in the UK.
The nausea is so severe that food or drink cannot be kept down and vomiting is frequent even if no food has been eaten. HG can persist to the end of a pregnancy and there is a risk of malnutrition in the mother. Fainting from dehydration and low blood pressure are common and some babies are born smaller. It is not known why morning sickness or HG occurs, although hormonal fluctuations and poor gut function could play a role.
“Morning sickness is thought to be evolution’s way of preventing a woman ingesting toxins. In most cases HG is a sign of a healthy pregnancy, though, because the mother’s body is sensitive to what is put in it,” says Dr Amma Kyei-Mensah, consultant obstetrician at the Whittington Hospital, London.
Treatment usually involves eating small meals frequently and avoiding spicy or fatty foods. Vitamin B6 intake, eating foods containing ginger and acupressure applied to the wrist have been shown to prevent nausea in pregnancy. In severe cases a woman will be hospitalised to treat dehydration with intravenous fluids.
Nothing seemed to work for Denise. “By the end of the seventh week Matt took me to Watford General because I was so dehydrated. I was given an injection of an anti-sickness drug and hooked up to a glucose drip,” she says.
It was a pattern that was to repeat itself throughout Denise’s pregnancy, resulting in a further 12 hospital stays of up to three days at a time.
“Doctors kept assuring me that the baby was fine but I felt so worried and guilty that I couldn’t provide what he needed,” says Denise, who gave birth to Ben, now 12, at a healthy 8lb 6oz.
Denise was so traumatised by her experience that she vowed not to have another child. But seven years later she became pregnant with Oliver, now five. In the early stages of her pregnancy she was rushed to hospital three times because of HG, but then, after three months, Denise made a discovery that was to change her life - she started crunching ice.
“I developed an overwhelming desire to eat something frozen so started sucking on an ice cube. The nausea subsided and I began to feel normal again. Soon I was getting through a couple of pounds of ice a day.”
A craving for something of little nutritional value or a specific texture during pregnancy is known as pica, says Dr Kyei-Mensah. “It is not understood why ice is such a common craving but it’s probably because the cold is refreshing, the water dilutes excess stomach acid and it is hydrating.”
Eighteen months after Oliver was born, Denise gave birth to Lilly, now three. “With Lilly, I started crunching ice immediately and, apart from nausea in the mornings, I was free of HG.”
Shortly after Lilly’s birth, Denise, a former office administrator, thought there should be a more appetising alternative available for other women suffering with HG and decided to start a business selling her own ice-lolly creations. After experimenting with different flavours with nausea-busting qualities, in 2009 she launched Lillipops, named after her daughter.
“Mint soothes digestion and heartburn, ginger calms nausea and grapefruit and lime satisfy the common craving for tangy foods,” she says.
Lillipops has been a major hit with pregnant mothers and orders have poured in from all over the world. Chemotherapy patients have also been in touch with Denise to tell her how Lillipops have helped them with nausea. She says: “It’s amazing to think that such success has come from such a horrendous experience.” - Daily Mail