Dealing with chronic illness and pregnancy

Dealing with chronic illness and pregnancy

Pregnancy comes with a number of physical and mental challenges, but if you’re suffering from a chronic illness or condition, it can be even more difficult. If you’ve been dealing with a chronic illness for quite some time before becoming pregnant, you’ll already be familiar with the uncomfortableness that comes with a disability or invisible illness. However, some people don’t understand or aren’t aware of chronic illnesses and what sufferers experience on a daily basis.

What is a chronic illness?

A chronic illness is a condition, disease or disability that is genetic (although not always), or persistent and long-term, usually flaring up or developing over time. The word chronic is used when it lasts for longer than three months. Chronic illnesses come in a variety of forms and can be visible or invisible. Examples of chronic illnesses:

  • Arthritis
  • Mental health conditions
  • Lyme disease
  • Lupus
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Crohns disease
  • Diabetes
  • Thalassemia
  • Chronic migraine

How can chronic illness affect pregnancy?

Depending on your condition, chronic illness can be managed during pregnancy by following your regular routine or changing it, as advised by your doctor. However, you’ll want to check whether your regular medications are safe while pregnant, as some can be harmful to a baby. Chronic illness is tough on its own, so while pregnant it can alter the intensity of sickness, stress, and even create new health concerns and needs.

  • Fatigue is said to be one of the greatest challenges, as chronically ill people are often more tired than those who aren’t chronically ill.
  • Nausea that usually arrives during the first trimester may feel more intense for chronic illness sufferers
  • Existent pain and body aches may intensify while pregnant
  • Asthma can affect pregnancy if it is not controlled
  • Mental illness may progress while pregnant

Before becoming pregnant, it’s vital to get these conditions under control by seeing specialists and a GP who can put together a treatment plan.

Can chronic illness affect my baby?

Everyone’s situation is different, but chronic illness can affect a baby and can be passed down to them if the condition is genetic.

  • Uncontrolled diabetes may increase the birthweight of a baby and increase the chances of an abnormality
  • Obesity can cause a premature birth and increase your child’s chances of becoming obese later in life
  • Thalassemia is genetic, and if both parents carry thalassemia their child is at risk of thalassemia major which creates a number of health issues that can lead to death
  • Lupus isn’t genetic
  • Lyme disease may be inherited
  • Each condition is worth researching before becoming pregnant
  • Children may be emotionally impacted by their parents’ chronic condition (a parent missing out on important events because of sickness)

Not every chronic condition will affect a baby, but the wise choice is to get professional advice before considering becoming pregnant.

What are my options if I’m chronically ill and want to get pregnant / or are pregnant?

If you suffer from a serious or not so serious chronic condition, there are a few options to consider before becoming pregnant.

  • Blood tests before planning to have a baby
  • If you’re pregnant, ultrasounds look for signs of birth defects, including Down syndrome
  • First trimester screen can also rule out things like Down syndrome, as it looks for problems with your baby’s chromosomes
  • A quad marker screen will check for problems with your baby’s brain and spinal cord – including spina bifida. A quad marker screen will also detect a higher risk of genetic disorders (it does not diagnose birth defects)
  • An Amniocentesis test will actually diagnose a defect and detect genetic diseases
  • Chorionic Villus Sampling (CVS) is an alternative to Amniocentesis but can be done earlier in the pregnancy
  • A Non-Invasive Prenatal Test also detects whether your child is at risk of birth defects or disorders and is performed by a simple blood test

I’m pregnant and my chronic illness is making me unwell

If you’re chronically ill and aren’t feeling too well, you’ll need to take care of yourself by:

  • Resting regularly
  • Rescheduling plans if you’re not feeling up to it (don’t feel guilty, as your health is a priority)
  • Eat well (a healthy and balanced diet)
  • Ask for help if you need. There’s nothing wrong with reaching out to friends and family
  • Embrace the positive moments. Although it’s easier said than done, thinking positively and embracing any good moments can help get through the toughest of days
  • Acceptance. It is hard as a chronically ill person to accept that their life has changed, especially while expecting a baby, but acceptance is another way to move forward
  • Don’t be hard on yourself. This can be a challenge for sufferers who once had energy to handle more than their current situation.
  • Seeing doctors and specialists regularly to maintain your condition
  • Seeing a therapist can also help to talk about the emotional baggage that comes with chronic illness and pregnancy

Be honest and open to others about your condition and what you’re experiencing. It’s easy as a chronic illness sufferer to feel ashamed and as though you have to hide your sickness, which will only make you feel worse.

If you’re chronically ill and you’re considering becoming pregnant, have recently fallen pregnant, or have just had a child, you must first realise that you’re not alone. You may be concerned whether you’ll be able to look after a baby while dealing with a chronic illness, but it can be done with the right support from friends, family, partners, nannies, doctors, specialists and a good therapist. Depending on your condition and severity of illness, there are options available to ensure that you’re pregnancy is managed, and to look out for any possible genetic issues that can occur because of chronic illness.