Pregnancy and parenthood with arthritis: two new mums share their stories22 May 2023
If you have arthritis and are pregnant or expecting a child, it’s completely normal to have concerns about the impact of the pregnancy on your condition. You might also be worried about raising a child while navigating arthritis symptoms such as pain and fatigue.
Nikki and Jade have both felt the pressures of being pregnant alongside having arthritis, and they are now learning how to navigate their conditions while raising young children.
32-year-old Jade was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis six years ago. She’s currently learning how to manage her condition while being a parent to her 15-month-old son, Dexter.
27-year-old Nikki was diagnosed with spondyloarthritis and widespread enthesitis about four years ago, although she has experienced knee pain since the age of 10. Her son is 2 months old.
Pregnancy and arthritis
Both Nikki and Jade’s conditions are classed as autoimmune inflammatory arthritis. This is caused when our immune system mistakenly attacks our joints, leaving them inflamed and painful.
People with autoimmune inflammatory arthritis may need extra support during and after pregnancy to help prevent flares. Jade and Nikki both received consultant-led care during pregnancy.
“I had five NHS scans and extra appointments and monitoring”, says Jade. “This helped me bond with my baby, feel safe and trust that for once my body was doing exactly what it was supposed to.”
Nikki had a similar experience. “As my pregnancy was classed as high risk, I was consultant-led and had to have additional ultrasounds throughout”, she says.
However, Nikki had additional issues during pregnancy. “At 34 weeks, I was diagnosed with cholestasis. My son was born prematurely via an emergency c-section which required a hospital stay for several weeks.”
Taking medicines during pregnancy
If you have autoimmune inflammatory arthritis and you’re thinking of trying for a baby, it’s important to keep your condition well controlled.
Some medicines that are used for autoimmune inflammatory arthritis need to be stopped before trying to conceive. However, many medicines can safely be taken before and during pregnancy, and can help keep your condition under control.
Jade made the decision to stop taking all medication while she was pregnant. “I was in the middle of a really bad flare and my medication wasn’t working at the time”, she says. “The pregnancy knocked my arthritis into remission almost immediately.”
“Making the decision to stop all medication until after the birth was a deeply personal and individual choice to make, which I discussed with the consultant first. Flares are common post-birth, so we had a plan in place. I can’t give my consultant enough credit.”
Breastfeeding with arthritis
Nikki is currently breastfeeding, which means that she can’t take her medication. “My postpartum flare up has left me with crippling, burning pain in most of my joints which disrupt my sleep every night”, she says. “As I have chosen to breastfeed, I am only using warm compresses and over the counter painkillers.
“Given that I was taking biologics (Adalimumab) prior to getting pregnant, these interventions have minimal impact on my symptoms. It’s hard and mentally challenging to continue to be positive.”
Managing arthritis with a young child
Nikki and Jade both now have young children. However, they’re finding the added impact of the joint pain and fatigue from their arthritis makes parenting more difficult.
“I’d be lying if I said being a mum with a chronic illness is easy”, says Jade. “When he was really little, things like changing his nappy and babygrows could be difficult when I was experiencing stiffness in my hands. Now the older he gets, the more mobile he is, which comes with new challenges.
“I’m a single parent now. It’s a lot balancing work, being a mum and having my condition. A while back, I tried to make all my son’s food from scratch, but it was making me exhausted. I realised it wasn’t that important. He’s better off having a happy well rested mum who can look after him than one who’s breaking her back doing chores every day.”
Nikki agrees that having a child when you have arthritis isn’t easy. “There are times where I struggle with burping and lifting him as these actions exacerbate my shoulder pain”, she says.
“With a chronic health condition, I cannot help but worry about how it may affect him as he gets older and I feel like I’m letting him down. Will I be able to take him to the park on days I have a flare? I don’t want to burden his life because of what’s going on with me. It’s a lot of pressure being a ‘normal mum’.
“But, no matter how sad I might feel, the minute I see and hold my baby, I know that this journey was definitely worth it.”
Explaining to your child that you have arthritis
Jade has some advice for fellow parents who have arthritis. “I’ve recently joined an online support group through NRAS for parents with inflammatory arthritis”, she says. “They were talking about how to explain your condition to your child as they get older. Some of the kids have nicknamed arthritis ‘Arthur’. They go with their mums to medical appointments and help with jobs around the house.
“There are children’s books you can buy specifically about chronic illness to help explain it. I hope by teaching my son that not all disabilities are visible it will help him be empathetic and kind to others.”
As a new parent, having a support network really helps, whether it’s from family, friends or the wider community.
“I am truly lucky to have my husband who has been incredible in keeping me optimistic and giving me unconditional support”, says Nikki.
However, Nikki finds socialising with her condition difficult. “The process of travelling a short distance and spending a few hours socialising is very tiring and painful for me. Some people struggle to comprehend why this would be the case, but when your symptoms are not controlled, the simplest activity can be extremely difficult.”
Jade has found support from different classes. “Not long after giving birth, I contacted some baby groups to see if the classes could be adapted for us. We went to a baby massage group, and they said they could bring in a table for me to massage him on and a chair, whereas everyone else sat on mats on the floor. The help is out there, but if you don’t ask and give people the chance to adapt, they’re not going to. Such a small act for them makes such a big difference to me and my condition.
“I’ve also found the online arthritis community to be a lifeline”, she adds. “It’s so important to strengthen your network.”
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