It's hard to imagine the likes of Kate Middleton—jet-setting, glossy-smiled, impeccably-dressed royalty—falling victim to something so decidedly not glamorous: morning sickness. Severe morning sickness, at that. News that the Duchess of Cambridge is expecting broke Monday when she was hospitalized for hyperemesis gravidarum—a term typically used to distinguish between tolerable morning sickness and vomiting so frequent that it impairs a woman's life, says Elizabeth Lyster, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Holtorf Medical Group in Foster City, Calif. Women with this condition are so sick that they can't go to work or manage their normal responsibilities, and they're often hospitalized for dehydration, which requires IV therapy.
Soon-to-be moms who can't hold down fluids, even just sips of water or sports drinks like Gatorade, should call their doctors, Lyster suggests. "Don't get behind the eight ball—don't try to tough it out," she says. "A baby is fine if the mother can't eat food, but the baby won't be fine if mom can't stay hydrated."
Another way to tell if a woman is dehydrated? Monitor how much urine she's producing, says Miriam Erick, a dietitian at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, and author of Managing Morning Sickness: A Survival Guide for Pregnant Women. If she's only urinating once a day, down from, say, six times, she's likely dehydrated.
Even if a woman isn't experiencing hyperemesis gravidarum, plain old morning sickness can still take a toll. While the cause of morning sickness is hazy—hormones play a role, and blood sugar likely drops—we do know that most pregnant women experience nausea to some degree. And according to the National Institutes of Health, about a third will suffer from vomiting.
If your "pregnancy glow" has a greenish hue, or if you're a partner wanting to help, try the following:
Clearly articulate which smells trigger your nausea. It could be food preparation, cologne, or that spring breeze-scented laundry detergent. If scents you hardly noticed before are sending you straight to the bathroom, let your partner and family know, so they don't accidently add to your misery. "Being able to address these triggers gets to be a little tender," Erick says. "Most women don't want to say, 'By the way, you stink' or 'Don't breathe on me.' They have a hard time telling people how to take care of them." But if these triggers aren't acknowledged, the situation can escalate quickly. "If you don't address that, you're part of the problem—not part of the solution," she says. "If those [triggers] aren't removed, then someone is going to be unhappy and nauseous. They're not going to eat or drink, and they're going to lose weight and become dehydrated. It's like a snowball going downhill."
Partners, be sympathetic to triggers. Ask which scents bother her, and do whatever it takes to keep from exposing her to them. Understand that no one likes to be sick, so the constant nausea—not to mention loads of hormones—will likely affect her mood. "Other people may say, 'Boy, you're being moody and cranky,' but clearly, nobody wants to be unhappy and miserable with nausea," Erick says. "These women can't get away from it for the most part. It's in degrees of badness and ugliness."
Stay hydrated. Sipping on water—and lots of it—is key for replenishing and keeping your future baby healthy. In fact, experts recommend that pregnant women drink 10 cups (2.3 liters) of fluid each day. If you want a little flavor, milk, juices, tea, and soft drinks count toward your fluid intake, as well as sports drinks such as Gatorade, which is packed with electrolytes.
Eat whatever calms your stomach. If that means sucking on candy or mints, go for it, Lyster says. Ginger also helps fight off morning sickness, according to the NIH. Try ginger teas, candies, and sodas. It's also smart to keep crackers and other bland foods like toast and cereal near your bedside, and nibble on something before getting up in the morning.
Opt for frequent snacks in lieu of large meals. In fact, the NIH suggests snacking as often as every one to two hours throughout the day. To boost energy, choose foods high in both protein and complex carbs, which take a while to turn into blood sugar and will, ideally, prevent spikes and drops that could leave you feeling awful. Think along the lines of nuts, cheese, and yogurt.
Try nausea medication. Lyster says there are plenty of medicines out there that are fine for pregnant women. Always read the products' labels, and when in doubt, check with your doctor. If you're vomiting and can't swallow a pill, Lyster says some medications can be taken through the opposite end of the body (yup, that means rectally).
With any luck, these tips will help ease your morning sickness. But if not, some good news for you (and Kate): Morning sickness often wanes at the end of the first trimester. And as long as you stay hydrated, nausea is unlikely to harm the baby—just sicken mom. Consider it one of the first in what's likely to be a long list of motherly sacrifices.