Arthritis and Pregnancy: A Guide to Handling Pain
There are few joys in life that are brighter than bringing a new life into the world. As joyful of a time as being pregnant may be, it can also bring on some aches and pains throughout the body. That goes double (or maybe even triple) if you already suffer from arthritis pain when you become pregnant.
It makes for a tough journey, no question, but you can get through it. Here’s a guide to let you know what you can expect, what pain you might feel over the course of the pregnancy, and how you can manage and alleviate that pain.
Symptoms and Pain
Excessive Joint Pain
Arthritis can cause pain to the joints, but weight gained during pregnancy can compound that pain, Ann Pietrangelo writes at Healthline. This pain will probably be most noticeable in the knees, but excess pressure on the spine could also lead to muscle spasms or leg numbness.
Carpal tunnel syndrome or stiffness in the knees, ankles, feet and hips also may occur because of water weight gained. Once the baby is born, these symptoms should dissipate.
Pregnant women who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis (RA) may feel more fatigued than usual.
Rheumatoid arthritis, one of the more common types of the disease, can wreak havoc on the smaller joints in the hands and feet. RA can cause the joints to get tender and swell, cause tissue to bump up under the skin on your arms, and even cause a fever or weight loss. These symptoms are bad enough at any time, but they’re compounded when you’re pregnant.
There are a handful of tips to help you manage the RA pain during a pregnancy however, Gina Ricci writes at Examiner.com:
- Add Omega 3 fatty acids to your diet
- Get into the habit of relaxing activities such as yoga or meditation
- Switch to a Mediterranean diet
- Take a warm bath or shower
- Get a massage
- Get plenty of sleep
If you do have RA, it’s best to speak to your rheumatologist before you try to conceive, Winnie Yu writes at Healthmonitor. Your current RA medication might be harmful to the fetus, and your doctor can help you find medications that are less risky for the fetus. You would then take three to six months before you become pregnant. If you find out you are pregnant while you’re on your current medication, get in touch with your rheumatologist immediately.
Standard Joint Pain
If you’re experiencing general joint pain, you can take non-prescription medicine such as Tylenol, The Bump‘s Joanne Van Zuidam says. Non-medicinal pain relievers include elevating your feet at night and reducing exercise. Unless you’re in severe pain or have suffered an injury, you can usually wait until your next scheduled office visit to discuss your point pain with your doctor rather than set up a special appointment.
Dealing With Arthritis Pain
What to Expect if You Have RA
During the first trimester, the initial symptom you may experience is fatigue, Mary Anne Dunkin writes at Arthritis.org. If you’re generally fatigued due to RA, you might feel even more tired during pregnancy; otherwise, RA shouldn’t have an effect on your pregnancy during the first trimester and vice versa.
J. Bruce Smith, MD, assistant compliance officer and rheumatologist at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, tells Dunkin that close to 70 percent of women who have RA see their symptoms improve during the second trimester, and the improvement lasts through the six first weeks after the baby is born. The exact reason for the symptom improvement is unknown, but it’s believed anti-inflammatory cytokines and hormonal changes during the pregnancy play a part.
During the third trimester, RA symptoms that were previously mild are likely to stay that way. You should expect to feel more tired, however, because of potential weight gain as you get closer to your due date.
RA may increase the chance of your child being born prematurely, but that doesn’t mean your baby will be born underweight. However, there is a chance of neonatal complications or congenital abnormalities, arthritis and joint conditions expert Carol Eustice adds. If the arthritis exists in the hip area, a Cesarean section delivery is the most likely option.
It can be easy to get upset with yourself or your body when you experience an arthritis flare-up, writes Suzie May at Arthritis.org. They key is to remember your body is creating another life, and you should recognize how much work it’s doing. “Try to focus on the beautiful and very special baby you are creating and how amazingly courageous and strong you are to be, despite your arthritis, achieving your goal of having your very own family,” she says.
After your baby’s born, there’s a good chance your arthritis might get worse again, Carrie DeVries writes at Arthritis-Health.com. This can be challenging if you’re unable to go back to taking the medications you did before you were pregnant if you plan on breastfeeding.
“The regular stress of adjusting to caring for a new baby — in addition to the arthritis flares of returning symptoms — means that it’s especially helpful for new mothers with arthritis to receive lots of support and help from … loved ones in the days and weeks following the baby’s arrival,” she writes.
Medications and Treatments
Safe Medications and Medications to Avoid
When you are pregnant, it’s imperative to discuss with your doctor what arthritis medications you’re taking, the Arthritis Foundation writes. While some medications will help control the disease, others could harm your baby or end the pregnancy altogether.
The foundation’s article lists several medications that should be kept off-limits during pregnancy. It’s worth having a look at those for informational purposes, but let your doctor ultimately guide which medicines you use.
Natural Treatments for Joint Pain
In addition to arthritis medications, there are a number of natural options to help ease your arthritis pain, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Low-impact workouts such as walking or swimming can help improve your joint flexibility and will be gentler on your joints.
There are also several therapeutic measures you can take to help with arthritis during your pregnancy. These include:
- Heat and cold therapy — hot showers, heating pads or ice packs
- Massage therapy — great for improving range of motion and relieving stiffness
- Supportive footwear — swap out high heels for flats