Fibromyalgia and Pregnancy

Most women find their pregnancies to be very enjoyable, but pregnancy can definitely have its difficult times. Whether it’s morning sickness, insomnia, or just plain old fatigue, being pregnant can really take it out of you. When you are pregnant and fighting an illness though, things can be even worse. Women with fibromyalgia, a chronic pain disorder, often wonder if they will be able to deal with the demands of a pregnancy.

What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a relatively unknown illness, even though it affects between 3 and 6 million Americans every year. Fibromyalgia is a syndrome that causes widespread and chronic pain in your body. This pain is also accompanied by numerous other symptoms and often has a great impact on your freedom and enjoyment of life. Fibromyalgia syndrome seems to attack more women than men, with 80% of sufferers being female. Onset of this syndrome generally occurs during early adulthood or middle age and is characterized by symptoms that wax and wane over periods of time.

Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia symptoms are painful and can be debilitating. Fibromyalgia attacks the muscles throughout your body, causing them to ache, burn, and twitch. If you are suffering from the syndrome, you probably feel achy all over, especially in the arms, lower back, shoulders and neck area. Fibromyalgia causes tingling in the fingers and toes, severe fatigue, headaches, and sleep problems. The syndrome is also associated with abdominal pain and gastrointestinal complications. Additionally, many suffers have to deal with anxiety and depression triggered by their fibromyalgia.

There is currently no cure for fibromyalgia and treatments are also limited in their effectiveness. Generally, antidepressants and pain suppressants are used to treat the symptoms of fibromyaligia. This lack of effective fibromyalgia treatment is basically due to the minimal knowledge researchers have about the syndrome. No one is completely sure of the causes of the illness and thus no appropriate treatments for fibromyalgia have yet been found.

Fibromyalgia and Pregnancy
Not very much is known about the course of fibromyalgia during pregnancy. In fact, there seems to be conflicting evidence between researchers and doctors as to the effects of pregnancy on the syndrome. It is generally accepted that more fibromyalgia research must be performed in order to get an accurate idea of what happens to fibromyalgia syndrome during pregnancy.

In 1997, one of the only studies ever done on fibromyalgia and pregnancy was conducted in Norway. A small number of pregnant women were included in the study, some with fibromyalgia and some without. The study found that an overwhelming number of those pregnant while suffering from fibromyalgia reported a drastic increase in the severity of their symptoms. The third trimester was by far the most challenging during their pregnancy, with symptoms increasing in frequency. Most of the women in the study reported that their symptoms remained more intense than normal until about three months after they had delivered. They also had a greater incidence of post-partum depression. On a brighter note, the babies born to women with fibromyalgia were all healthy, full-term, and of a good birth weight.

Many doctors however, disagree with the idea that pregnancy makes fibromyalgia worse. Doctors who treat fibromyalgic patients actually argue that pregnancy helps to lessen and even eliminate the symptoms caused by fibromyalgia. Many pregnant women say that, after their initial nausea and morning sickness passed, they actually felt better than they did before they were pregnant. It is theorized that this could be due to the ovarian hormone relaxin. During pregnancy, the amount of relaxin in a woman’s body increases up to 10 fold. It has also been found that relaxin supplements help to ease symptoms in many women with fibromyalgia.

Fibromyalgia and Breastfeeding
Though the effects of pregnancy on fibromyalgia are unknown, more is known about breastfeeding and fibromyalgia. Numerous studies have been done in the area and conclusions seem to support that fibromyalgia makes breastfeeding quite difficult. This is not to say that it cannot be done, only that there are some extra things to keep in mind if you do decide to breastfeed.

Breastfeeding tends to be difficult because of the chronic muscle pain caused by fibromyalgia. Most women will have their symptoms return soon after they give birth, making breastfeeding even harder than it is normally. It is important to make feeding time as stress free as possible, both physically and emotionally.

Use pillows to support your own head while you feed your baby. Think about getting a support or sling to prop your baby up, so you don’t have to support his weight all on your own. You may find that lying down on the bed with your baby facing you will also make feeding easier; it will give you some extra time to rest. Be sure to nurse in a quiet area away from the hustle and bustle of daily life – this will reduce your own stress level and give you some time to bond with your little one.

Thinking about Getting Pregnant?
If you have fibromyalgia you may be wondering whether or not you should get pregnant. Rest assured that fibromyalgia will have no negative effect on your baby whatsoever. Therefore, the main issue is whether you feel your body can handle a pregnancy. Unless you have extreme complications, most women find that pregnancy is something to pursue even with fibromyalgia. If you do decide to get pregnant, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Try to plan your pregnancy at least a year ahead of time, so you can begin to build up your strength.
  • Reduce the amount of stress in your life as much as you possibly can.
  • Try to conceive when your symptoms are less intense. Avoid conceiving during a symptom flare up.
  • Speak with your doctor about your medications. Not all medications are safe to continue during pregnancy.
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  • Maintain a healthy diet and work out moderately (but don’t overdo it).

Suffering from fibromyalgia? Visit our Discomfort forum to talk with other moms-to-be with the syndrome.

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