Rheumatoid Arthritis and Parenting


Chris Iliades, MD

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Most women actually have a decrease in their rheumatoid arthritis (RA) symptoms during pregnancy. However, the challenges may intensify after the baby's birth. When the tough job of parenting begins, RA symptoms like pain, stiffness and fatigue can make it seem even tougher. This is true for both moms and dads with RA. These tips can help.

Plan for a Flare 

Hormones that rise during pregnancy often cause RA symptoms to subside. However, your symptoms can come back about six weeks after you give birth, when your hormones return to normal. It's important to have a plan in place, with help from your doctor, for how you can manage this relapse.

Talk with your doctor about what lifestyle changes and medications you can incorporate to prevent or minimize your symptoms. Fatigue may be one of your symptoms, so try to have your family and friend support system in place when you're having a hard time keeping up. Raising a newborn can be stressful, and stress is a well-known RA trigger. Identify strategies that will help reduce the stress in your busy day.

Plan Ahead for Breastfeeding

Some drugs that you would normally be able to take after giving birth may not be safe if you are breastfeeding because they can pass through your milk to your baby. Talk with your doctor ahead of time about what drugs will be safe for both you and your baby.

Modify Your Home

These simple changes around the house can help with day-to-day parenting with RA:

  • Avoid having to go up and down stairs by having everything you need both upstairs and down. That includes baby diapers, changes of clothes, and safe places for play and naps.

  • Make sure the areas where you change your child are at waist level so you don't have to do too much bending.

  • Check that your stair gates are easy for you to open and close.

  • Place an armchair next to the crib so you don't need to carry your baby far if he or she needs comforting at night.

Use Child-Friendly Technology

The right baby gear can make parenting easier:

  • Find a comfortable carrying sling. Carrying your baby in a sling is safer for the baby and easier on your arms, hands, and back.

  • Use a breastfeeding support pillow. These pillows are designed to reduce the stress of holding your baby at chest level. They also are good for holding your baby close and securely even if you are not breastfeeding.

  • Avoid carriages and other baby equipment that's too heavy or too hard to fold. Shop for simple, lightweight designs.

  • Buttons, ties, and snaps can be hard if your RA symptoms are acting up. Look for elastic and Velcro closures on shoes and clothing.

Ask for Help

There may be times when you need to turn over some child care to a friend or loved one. For example, lifting your baby out of a bath when your hands or arms are weak and sore is not safe for your baby. When your symptoms act up and you need to rest, activate your support system to help with shopping, driving, cooking, and household chores.

Take Care of Yourself

You can't be a good parent if you are sick and exhausted. Make sure you stick with your RA care plan to protect your physical and emotional health. Have reasonable expectations and don't ignore the things you need to do to manage your RA. Remember to:

  • Work closely with your rheumatologist and other members of your team.

  • Get regular exercise to maintain your strength and mobility.

  • Eat a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight.

  • Listen to your body and get enough rest.

  • Talk about your feelings with family and friends. Don't hesitate to ask for help—do what's best for you and your baby!

  • Stay positive and enjoy the gift of being a parent.

Key Takeaways

  • RA does not prevent people from becoming parents, but it may make the job a little more challenging.

  • Prepare in advance for parenting by talking with your doctor about treatment after pregnancy, especially if you plan to breastfeed.

  • Make parenting easier by adapting your home with child-friendly technology and asking for help.

  • Make sure you continue to manage your RA well enough so that you will be the best parent you can be.

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Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Apr 17, 2017

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Medical References

  1. Parenting with arthritis. Arthritis Care. http://www.arthritiscare.org.uk/LivingwithArthritis/Parentingwitharthritis
  2. Pregnancy, birth & caring for a small baby whilst coping with RA. National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society. http://www.nras.org.uk/pregnancy-birth-caring-for-a-small-baby-whilst-coping-with-ra
  3. Rheumatoid Arthritis & Pregnancy. National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society. http://www.nras.org.uk/rheumatoid-arthritis-pregnancy
  4. Tips for Mums. National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society. http://www.nras.org.uk/tips-for-mums
  5. Breastfeeding & Rheumatoid Arthritis. National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society. http://www.nras.org.uk/breastfeeding-rheumatoid-arthritis

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