Pregnancy can lessen the symptoms of arthritis or conversely, can worsen the effects which are usually due to the extra weight gained during this time.

Many women find that their arthritis stays the same or even improves during their pregnancy. Their arthritis enters into a remission period but returns to normal after childbirth.

However, there are other women who find that being pregnant makes their arthritis worse. This is often the case with women who have osteoarthritis in their knees or hips who find that the extra weight puts additional strain on these affected joints. This can also exacerbate the symptoms.

Pregnancy is discussed as follows:

  • Arthritis medication and pregnancy
  • During your pregnancy
  • After the birth

Arthritis medication and pregnancy

A great many women also worry about the effect of their arthritis on the unborn baby. This usually refers to the various drugs they are taking to control their arthritis which have several side effects.

What we advise is for you to speak to your GP about these concerns. If you are looking to become pregnant then discuss these issues with him/her.

Women who have systemic lupus erythematosus or ‘lupus’ for short may be advised against becoming pregnant as this can put an excessive strain on your heart and other organs which have already been affected by lupus.

The main issue is the drugs you are taking to control the symptoms of lupus or another form of arthritis. Your GP will look at changing you to another type of medication, switching you to a lower dose or a safer combination. You may be asked to stop taking some forms of medication altogether.

During your pregnancy

You will be carefully monitored during your pregnancy. This will involves ultrasound scans which are a normal part of the ante-natal process but are particularly important in cases of arthritis. The aim is to assess the condition of the developing baby as well as seeing if there are signs of congenital disorders such as Down’s syndrome.

Weight gain is a particular issue. It is normal to expect an increase in weight during this time but this extra weight can put a strain on the joints.

If you have arthritis in your hips, knees or spine then be aware of this risk. Monitor your weight and keep exercising. If you exercise on a regular basis as a way of easing your arthritis then continue to do so for as long as you are able to. Swimming is one of the best forms of exercise and will not put any pressure on your joints.

Your midwife or GP will advise you about how to prepare for the forthcoming birth. This includes what equipment you will need to look after your baby and what to expect during labour.

You can buy products such as high chairs which have been adapted for use by the disabled. But if you are thinking of buying the type of equipment which is used by people without a disability then there are a few things to consider.

These include:

  • Pushchairs: look for pushchairs which are easy to fold up and open out.
  • Cots: choose a cot which has easy adjustable sides
  • High chairs: pick a high chair which is easy to open, close and carry around.
  • Care seats: look for a seat which is easy to fit in the car, and to remove.

After the birth

After the baby is born you will need to rest and regain your strength. Looking after a baby is a tiring business which will be even more tiring for someone with arthritis.

You may experience a flare up of your arthritis symptoms. Many women find that these symptoms settle down during their pregnancy, but unfortunately, they increase again after the birth.

Your GP or midwife will show you the best way to care for your baby which includes bathing, changing nappies and carrying the infant. But in some cases he/she may need to help you with these tasks if your arthritis is severe.

If you have other children then ask your partner or family to help you with looking after them while you are caring for your baby. Another option is to approach your local social services department for further help and support.

Your GP will also be able to advise you about resuming your arthritis medication. If you had stop these drugs before or during pregnancy then you will encouraged to take them again, unless there is the risk of these drugs preventing you from breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding has been found to be the best way of ensuring that your baby has the nutrients he/she needs so you will be encouraged to do so. Your GP may have to change you to another type of arthritis medication if there is a risk of this harming the baby.

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