Pregnancy and Multiple Sclerosis
Planning a baby is a major decision for most people but for a woman suffering from multiple sclerosis it can be one of the hardest choices she'll ever have to make.
It's not the getting pregnant that's the major problem in most cases or even the actual pregnancy or child birth. The most serious concern for most women involves the practical long term consequences of embarking on parenthood. If you're in this unenviable position now you're no doubt worrying about how disabled you might be in the future. Will your partner and/or family help care for the child and will you be able to cope financially if your condition worsens?
Because of the unpredictability of Multiple Sclerosis, child rearing presents a major challenge. If you're considering starting a family it's important to discuss all the possible pros and cons in depth with your partner and those closest to you. And don't forget to talk to your local health professionals because certain MS treatments and other drugs you may be taking to ease your symptoms may have to be stopped during pregnancy and breastfeeding so you need to be aware of that.
Drugs used to treat Multiple Sclerosis during Pregnancy
Disease modifying drugs such as Avonex, Betaseron, Rebif, Copaxone and Novantrone should not be taken during pregnancy because of possible adverse effects on the unborn child. They should also be avoided during breastfeeding because it is not yet known if they secrete into the breast milk.
Certain steroids can be taken during pregnancy but, once again, it's vital to check with your doctor.
As for whether multiple sclerosis is hereditary, the jury is still out on this one. Although no specific link has been proved it does appear that close relatives of MS sufferers have a slightly increased risk compared to those who don't have a family link. Research has shown that if one parent has MS the risk of their child getting it is between 3-5%. If other family members have it, the risk is greater. Unfortunately there is currently no test to see whether a baby is susceptible to MS.
But the risk is very small and for most women it's not enough in itself to deter them from pregnancy. If relatives and friends are prepared to be supportive there is no reason why MS sufferers shouldn't lead a normal family life.
Multiple Sclerosis doesn't affect a woman's chance of getting pregnant and so far research has shown there is no increased risk of miscarriage or birth defects.
On the whole women with MS enjoy fairly trouble free pregnancies. In fact according to the EU sub-committee for research and treatment in MS, in the last three months of pregnancy there is a reduced risk of relapse, although this is followed by an increased risk in the six months following the birth. The theory is that this could be due to the effects of certain sex hormones during pregnancy but there is no real conclusive evidence to support this.
With all pregnancies backache, bladder and bowel problems can be an issue. Some women with MS may suffer particularly badly because of the disease.
When it comes to delivering the baby, the problems aren't any greater than for women without MS.
The important thing to bear in mind is that babies and particularly toddlers can be excruciatingly exhausting at times, so you're going to need all the help you can get!