Pregnancy & Bringing Home Baby when you have a Chronic Illness

Pregnancy & Bringing Home Baby when you have a Chronic IllnessAdvice for Pregnant Women Dealing with a Medical Condition

I am a woman with Rheumatoid Arthritis, I have had two children, and I learned a lot from both of my pregnancies.  What I learned was that when you have a medical condition you must learn how to take care of yourself even as you are taking care of the sweet little baby.

My story is a tale of two pregnancies.  Pregnancy #1 I was ignorant of the special needs I would face and because of that I paid the price.  Pregnancy #2 I was much wiser and the same day I found out I was pregnant I went straight to the internet to research my own condition, look for help, and make a major To Do List of things I knew were problems the first time and how to fix them.

*Disclaimer-I am not a doctor, just a mom with a chronic condition sharing my experiences and how I helped myself to have a better pregnancy the second time around.

1.  Don’t expect your specialist to be up to date on all things pregnant with your particular disease.  This was the problem I faced with my first pregnancy.  My Rheumatologist is a specialist in RA.  My OB/GYN is a specialist in baby making, but not in RA.  As a result I had two doctors treating two different conditions but no one looking at the big picture.

My RA doctor told me to give up all of my medications during my first pregnancy except prednisone.  As a result I went into a major flare up early on in the pregnancy, never went into remission, and was on bed rest from month five till the end.  The prednisone dosage had to be raised again and again to try and control the disease and caused me to blow up like a whale.  I know all women gain weight when they are pregnant, but I didn’t even look human anymore by the time I was induced I was so swollen and bloated.

When I found out I was pregnant the second time I did my own research by visiting sites from trusted medical institutions and even contacting the pharmacies themselves. Turns out I could safely take one of my medications, Day Pro, without harm to the baby during the first and second trimester! I was on Day Pro when I conceived my first but gave it up because my rheumatologist told me too.

By being able to keep my condition under control during the early stages of the pregnancy it allowed the disease to go into remission naturally and by the time I had to stop taking the meds I was fine.

2.  Refill all of your medications prior to delivery.  I didn’t do this with my first and after I had the baby, I went home to a medicine cabinet that had no medicine it in.  I called the Rheumatologist to refill my prescriptions and was told that the doctor would need to see me first, and the next available appointment was two weeks away.  I was in agony.  I had been induced three weeks early on purpose so I could get back on my meds to start controlling the disease and now had to wait!!

The same day I found out I was pregnant with my second I grabbed my pill bottles and marked the calendar to remind myself to refill all of them (twice), even the ones I couldn’t take until after delivery.  This time when I came home from the hospital I had a two month supply of everything I needed to take care of myself.

3.  If pain is one of the factors of your disease then never leave home without the stroller.  A baby is only 7-10 pounds, that isn’t heavy, right?  But then the diaper bag also weights about 4-5 pounds as well.  Plus, you are currently suffering from blood loss, and you just had a baby.  Trust me your body is not working at 100%.

I made this mistake taking my first to the hospital for a repeat blood test.  I left the stroller at home because it was just supposed to be an in/out procedure.  But hospitals are big, and the test that needed to be done was a mile from the door I entered.  Not to mention I just walked half a mile from the parking lot to get to the hospital.  By the time the test was done and I managed to hobble back to the car I was near tears from both the pain in my arms and back, the pain in my girly parts, and the stress I was feeling for being so stupid as to not bring the stroller.

4.  Create a list of easy but healthy dinners to be able to have ready for when you get home from the hospital.  This is advice that is given to all new moms to be, but it is extra important for those suffering from a chronic condition, as your fatigue level will probably be higher than that of a healthy individual who just had a baby.  Chronic fatigue is actually a side effect of RA and can really sap your energy at times.  Having easy to prepare foods is very helpful and with a little thought you can still meet your nutritional needs.

Examples:

    1. Rotisserie Chicken (Store bought), box of Organic Rice Pilaf, bag of frozen vegetables that steams in the bag.
    2. Stir-fry made from boneless, skinless chicken tenderloins or precut beef strips and a bag of frozen oriental blend vegetables.
    3. Store bought packaged organic salads and fruit cups.
    4. Prepackaged frozen lasagna with vegetables that steam in the bag.
    5. Fresh cod fillets that can be baked in the oven with just a bit of seasoning and served with a packaged salad.

Also, have a pile of local restaurant take-out menus stacked by the phone and put the ones that deliver on the top of the pile.

5.  Stockpile diapers and formula.  When you first come home from the hospital with your new baby the last thing in the world you want to do is make a grocery store run or go to the local drug store at nine o’clock at night because you have run out of needed supplies.  You will want to have exactly one package of newborn diapers and then several packages of Stage 1.  Unless your child is a premie, your baby will outgrow newborn diapers by the end of the first week most likely.

As for formula, if one of the top priorities is to get yourself back onto your needed medications as quickly as possible, then the odds are high you will be unable to breast feed because the drug will pass from your milk into the baby.  You will need to talk to your doctors and perhaps even contact the drug company themselves to find out if you can breast feed and take your meds.

My RA drugs made my milk toxic.  Ready to Feed formula is expensive, but I actually recommend having it on hand for the first week.  Yes, this is being lazy, but you just had a baby, being lazy for the first week or two while your body recovers and hormones stabilize is perfectly acceptable at this time.

6.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help.  With my first pregnancy my husband returned to work the very next day. For financial reasons he had too. I was suddenly home alone, feeling incredibly poorly, with a newborn that needed constant attention.  Instead of having a magical first week at home bonding with my beautiful new baby I was exhausted and on the second day I had to bundle up the baby and go to the store because the kitchen was empty.  My inducement had been unexpected and as a result I didn’t have ready made meals and other needed items in the house. It honestly never crossed my mind to call my parents, my sister, or one of my friends to ask if they could pick up the needed items for me.

When you suffer with a chronic condition for most of your life you tend to try hard not to let it interfere with your day to day actions. As a result you become almost fiercely independent to the point of not really respecting your illness and doing what is best for your own health.

With baby #2 I was smarter.  When grandparents, aunts, and others offered to swing by with a meal I happily said yes. When I realized something had run out I called my husband at work and told him to pick up whatever was needed on his way home. If I knew someone was coming over to see the new baby I politely asked if they could pick up a carry out from a restaurant that was on the way and we would reimburse them when they arrived.

7.  Have your partner do one of the nighttime feedings. When you have a chronic condition getting your rest isn’t just good for you, it is essential, since a loss of sleep will usually aggravate your illness. Because my husband had to work it was my responsibility to do the 2:00 am feeding, but he then did the 5:00 am feeding since he was already up getting ready for work. This allowed me to ability to sleep from 2:30 straight through to 7:00 when I had to wake up to get my other child off to school.

8.  Don’t be afraid to let your child cry it out. When you are pregnant you are inundated with techniques for teaching baby how to sleep through the night. I have friends whose children still weren’t sleeping through the night even when the child was almost three years old.

If my health is in the tank then I can’t take care of my own children. I needed my rest for medical reasons. So, my babies always slept in their own crib right from the very first night. The truth is babies are not quiet sleepers. They coo, gurgle, whimper, fuss, and even cry, all in their sleep. I am a light sleeper. The single night that baby #2 slept in our room in his bassinet I didn’t get a wink of sleep. The next night the bassinet was rolled into the living room since baby #2 and our first were going to have to share a room once baby #2 started sleeping through the night.

Also, as long as the babies were fed, dry, and all their basic needs were met, I let them cry. I did go in the room to check on them, I rubbed their back, I made a shushing noise, but I did not pick them up. My first was sleeping through the night at 11 weeks.  My second slept through the night at 10 weeks. My first cried it out for two nights. My second only cried it out one night. Those nights were hard, I won’t lie, but once they were done they were done and I had sleeping children. I know there will be moms out there who will read this and think how selfish I was, how cruel I was, but maintaining my health was just as important as maintaining the health of my babies. I would be no good to them if I were bed ridden or in the hospital.

I really hope this helps someone out there. I truly wish I had known all this before my first pregnancy. I might have enjoyed it more, but I learned these lessons the hard way which made me so much smarter for when I was pregnant the second time.
~Tina
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Comments

  1. This is amazing advice. I wish I had known I had Ehlers-Danlos syndrome when I had my children, and could have read an article like this: much of the advice applies. Sharing with my community!

    • Thank you. I also wish I had known this with my first pregnancy. My first was such a horrible experience that I did everything I could to make the second go better.

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