If you’ve been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), you face everyday challenges. Depending on which nerve signals your MS has disrupted, you may experience numbness, stiffness, muscle spasms, dizziness, emotional changes, and difficulty focusing and organizing.
But what about the not-so-obvious ways in which MS may affect your life? For example, can or should you have a baby?
Here are some factors to consider.
“Will I be able to get pregnant? Might pregnancy worsen my MS? What if I can’t organize nutritious meal plans for the baby? How will I chase a toddler around the house?”
If you’re considering parenthood, these are all practical questions you may be asking yourself. Recent research can answer some of them.
Generally, yes: It’s safe to become pregnant if you have MS. In fact, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society says that MS is more prevalent in women of childbearing age than in any other group. Medical management and a supportive team will be key to a successful pregnancy.
Couples living with MS need to plan for ongoing support when considering pregnancy. This planning begins with finding a neurologist and an obstetrician who believe you can start your family.
Managing MS and being pregnant are challenging enough individually, let alone together. You should choose doctors who will help you sort through your concerns, guide you to appropriate support and resources, and encourage you through any challenges.
Once you have a supportive medical team, discuss specific concerns with them. For example:
- How will pregnancy affect my fatigue levels?
- Can I take MS medicines while pregnant and breastfeeding?
- What if my MS relapses?
- Will anesthesia during delivery adversely affect me?
- What are the chances of passing MS on to my child?
You may wish to download the brochure “Pregnancy, Delivery, and the Postpartum Period” from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society to share with your doctors.
Studies show that fertility, pregnancy, labor, delivery, and fetal complications are generally no different for women with MS than for women without MS.
Furthermore, research shows that MS flare-ups tend to decrease — especially in the latter two-thirds of a pregnancy.
However, bladder, bowel, fatigue, and gait issues — common among all pregnant women — may be worse for women with MS who already experience those issues.
Medications for MS treat acute attacks, lessen symptoms, and slow the progress of the disease itself. Medications for the first two purposes are usually safe to continue during pregnancy. Your doctor can recommend other management strategies if yours aren’t. If you take a disease-modifying agent, your doctor will advise you when to stop taking it — usually before you try to conceive.
According to the Multiple Sclerosis Association of America, you may have a 20 to 40 percent greater risk for flare-ups in the first three to six months after delivery. These relapses in MS symptoms shouldn’t affect your abilities in the long term. However, anticipate fatigue in the short term.
Plan to focus on mothering, resting, and taking care of your health for the first six-to-nine months after delivery. This might include nutrition, exercise, social support, and physical or occupational therapy. Arrange for other people to do household tasks and even babysitting, if needed.
MS is unpredictable, so you may feel life’s uncertainty acutely. But when it comes to pregnancy and parenthood, everyone walks into unknown territory. You can find emotional and practical help within your support networks of medical professionals, family, and friends.
Additional helpful resources for MS include: