I’ve been seeing a lot of comments lately through social media about some women with MS being told that they shouldn’t have children. Now I know that MS presents differently in all of us but I hate to see another MSer questioning one of their life goals and being crushed because of the possibility that they won’t be able to fulfill one of them because of MS.
Women with multiple sclerosis can have very successful pregnancies. In fact, I’m a woman with MS who has had two successful pregnancies, and I had MS before both of my children were born. Yes, there are more things that need to be taken into consideration for a woman with MS than someone who doesn’t have MS but with education, proper planning, and good communication with your health care team, it is possible to have a baby while living with MS.
That being said, everyone needs to think about their own health situation first and foremost. I’m sure that there are extreme cases out there where having a child may be riskier from some women with MS than for other women with MS. But remember, even in “healthy” women, there are risks in pregnancy. I would highly recommend getting a second opinion if you’ve been told that you can’t or shouldn’t have children because you have MS. That’s a big whopper of a statement to hear and you want to be confident that it is true information and not a case of misinformation or misconception.
Before making your decision to start a family, it is a good idea to collect as much information as possible about pregnancy and MS. I recommend seeking information from reputable sources like your neurologist, OBGYN, the National MS Society, and even here at LiveWiseMS where we provide you with trusted clinical information. (See our section on Reproductive Health)
Always consider the source and be careful about any information you receive on social media. Take everything other women are saying with a grain of salt and try to focus on your personal situation. I agree that absolute statements do not work in this arena. What worked for one woman may not work for another, and one woman’s experiences might be completely different from another. Everyone’s MS is different so therefore, everyone’s pregnancy experiences will be different too.
Be sure to talk to your health care practitioner about your goal of having children. They will help you with pre-pregnancy planning which will consist of when to stop taking your MS medications, and how long you should be off of them before trying to conceive. They will probably also talk to you about timing. Some women experience positive effects on their MS symptoms while pregnant but it is probably a good idea to try and get pregnant while you are in remission, or in a relatively calm state with your MS. Your body is going to go through enough changes that it makes sense that you don’t want to be dealing with a flare at the same time. Pre-pregnancy planning is just as important for your health as it is for your baby.
It is probably also a good idea to have a postpartum plan regarding whether you want to breastfeed or not, how long you want to breastfeed, and when is an appropriate time to go back on your medications. As with any plan, be flexible with your goals and be willing to accept plan B, or even plan C. After all, we all know how unpredictable MS can be!
Make sure “your team” is on board
In addition to working with your health care team, you need to make sure that you have the support system in place at home. Make sure your partner knows that you may need extra support during this time, and they may need to pull some extra weight and help out even more. Other family members may offer their help as well and I encourage you to take them up on it. You need to take care of yourself and be ever vigilant in listening to your body especially because there is a higher chance of relapse 3-6 months postpartum.*
Anything else to consider before getting pregnant?
There is a slightly higher chance of your children developing MS. According to the article Multiple Sclerosis in Pregnancy from The Journal of Perinatal & Neonatal Nursing, a child who has a parent with MS has a 3-4% risk of developing the disease compared to a 0.1-0.2% risk in the general population. For me personally, I found that percentage to be rather low and of little concern. I mean, I’m not sure what the chances are of being hit by a bus but anything and everything can happen in life. I want to be educated of the risks but I’m not going to let fear dictate my decisions.
My personal experiences
As I mentioned previously, I have had two successful pregnancies that, I'm lucky to say, were rather uneventful. In fact, I felt great the entire time I was pregnant so much so that my mother has told me she would love for me to be pregnant all of the time. I think she just wants more grandchildren but alas, that shop has closed and while still physically possible, I know that I just don’t have the energy physically and mentally for another child.
With my first son, I went off the MS medication as soon as I suspected that I was pregnant. It wasn’t ideal because I’m not sure if any of the medication was still in my system while I was in the early stages of pregnancy. Thankfully, I felt great during the entire pregnancy and had an easy delivery. I was able to breastfeed for six months and then I had a relapse. I stopped breastfeeding at that time, went in for periodic IV steroids, and promptly went back on my medication.
With my second child, upon recommendation from my neurologist, I went off my medication for at least three months before trying to conceive. Thankfully, I was fortunate and on the fourth month, my husband and I conceived. Again, I felt great during this pregnancy, carried to full term, and delivered without incident. My neurologist and I decided to be aggressive this time around so he scheduled me for an MRI four weeks after delivering. While I wasn’t presenting with any symptoms other than extreme exhaustion, the MRI showed that there were active brain lesions. My original goal was to breastfeed my second son for at least six months like I did with my first but unfortunately, I had to change my plan. My husband urged me to quit breastfeeding and to go back on my medication as soon as possible. His philosophy was that “if Mama goes does down, then the whole household goes down.” The compromise was that I breastfed for another two weeks and then went back on my medication.
Now I have two healthy and happy boys who have made my life so full. They are even greater motivators for me to stay as healthy as possible and continue to fight this fight against MS. I do try and get them outside as much as possible, and I even give them vitamin D supplements to hopefully lower that 3-4% risk of developing MS but I can’t worry about that. I just have to raise them through example and instill in them the knowledge that they can overcome anything that comes across their path – whether it be MS or any other obstacle.
Having children was one of my life goals and I wasn't going to let MS stand in my way. In fact, I'm posting this article on a day that changed my life forever — the anniversary of the day that I became a mother for the first time 11 years ago.
For more information, I recommend you check out our Reproductive Health Resources and if you have any further questions or concerns about pregnancy and MS, I encourage you to “Ask An Expert.” One of our MS nurses will respond to your question and we will share the information on our site.
* Information from the article Multiple Sclerosis in Pregnancy from The Journal of Perinatal & Neonatal Nursing