Chronic illness in the perinatal period - How will I manage?
Updated: Jan 8
In a world where mums sacrifice even basic self-care when caring for their children, how easy would it be to manage a long-term health condition alongside being a parent?
There are many challenges to living with a long-term health condition which can make the decision to become a parent more complex.
· Will I manage the physical demands of pregnancy, labour and infant care?
· How will these impact my health care?
· Will I struggle to become pregnant?
· Do I have the support and understanding around me to manage these difficulties?
Depending on the health condition itself and when in the perinatal journey someone learns about it, it can be important to learn about how it and its management impacts pregnancy, birth, baby and postpartum. Some ways to do this can be:
· Speaking to your GP/specialist – you won’t be the first or last to ask these questions. Write a list before your appointment so you don’t forget when you’re there. Can your birth partner attend with you? Make them aware of your questions or work them out together – if your birth partner is also your life partner, they may have questions of their own.
· BUMPs website – www.medicinesinpregnancy.org – inform yourself about the medication you may be taking to understand the benefit vs risk in pregnancy. Using this alongside the information from your medical team can help you make the best choice for you.
· Charity websites – your condition will most likely have a charity which offers support and raises awareness. Check on there to see if there is a section on fertility and pregnancy. These can be valuable places to get information and are usually written with the guidance of people with lived experience.
· Support groups – look in your local area or online to see if there are support groups for mums with your condition. Sometimes even just knowing you aren’t the only one can feel comforting. Online groups can be great for sharing resources or just having a rant if that’s what you need. Many people make great friends through these forums if that’s something you feel would be helpful.
Some people may discover a long-term condition following a pregnancy, finding themselves overwhelmed with the struggles of transitioning to a parent and managing their symptoms and healthcare simultaneously. It can be easy to feel burned out by medical appointments when things just don’t feel right and it’s important to have the support to manage appointments and to talk about how this is impacting you.
The prospect of facing the challenges of becoming a parent can feel overwhelming, even without considering the implications of a health condition. You don’t know what you don’t know, right? It can be helpful to talk this through with someone trusted who understands you and/or the impact of your condition. Putting a plan in place early and exploring options can help you feel confident to manage any potential challenges or barriers you may come across.
· Having an appropriate support network can make all the difference and having these conversations antenatally can help you plan for labour and postnatally. Could you be supported by a doula in this if your network is small/far-stretched?
· Thinking about basics such as food preparation – can you ask for frozen meals instead of baby grows or baby blankets? Can you ask for support to cook your favourite meals antenatally if you’re having any good days during pregnancy? Could you ask anyone who wants to visit baby to help you prepare meals while they are round?
· Is there equipment that could help you? www.mumslikeus.org has a list of aids which could be supportive for new parents and suggestions for how these can help with various physical challenges. Could something as simple as a grabber tool be a great registry gift? If you can request an occupational therapy assessment, this could help you with these decisions and ideas.
· Writing a birth and postnatal plan and making it clear that your health condition is an important factor in your choices can enable your maternity care providers to understand how it impacts you and how it has guided you in making your choices.
Remember that not all long-term health conditions will make you ‘high-risk’ in pregnancy but it is important to ensure that you have the knowledge of how it may impact your journey so you can make informed decisions about your care and advocate for yourself.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by managing your mental and physical health during pregnancy, ensure you seek support at the appropriate level, either socially, practically, through your GP/midwife/consultant or ask for a referral to a mental health team.