Rheumatoid Arthritis and Breastfeeding: need-to-knows

Rheumatoid Arthritis is a chronic, painful condition. Often, it takes time to find a medical regiment that can help control the flare-ups. It is found in women twice as often as it is in men and is not restricted by age. RA can be found in children, young adults, middle-aged individuals, and the elderly. It is often managed by medication. There is no doubt that Rheumatoid Arthritis is painful and needs treatment. Yet, many moms wonder if Rheumatoid Arthritis and breastfeeding are compatible. Is their normal regiment safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding?

The good news is three-fourths of women observe that their symptoms reduce or disappear during pregnancy. Unfortunately, many of those same moms quickly saw that after birth, flare-ups were incredibly common.

The worst time for these flare-ups was at the three to six weeks mark after birth when the new baby is most vulnerable. Some new mothers report that their flare-up lasted up to six months during their heaviest breastfeeding time.

Are my medications safe?

So how do you know if your medication is safe? Is there anything you can do to reduce the likelihood of these flareups? The most important thing to do immediately upon discovering that you’re pregnant is to put together a team to support you. Notify your obstetrician, your general practitioner or the specialist who treats your RA, and your partner.

Your medications and your diet contribute to controlling your flare-ups. Have your team review your situation and craft a plan that is appropriate through your pregnancy and breastfeeding months.

Does your medicinal routine includes painkillers and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS)? It is generally accepted that these meds pose very little risk to you or your child during or after pregnancy.

However, most over the counter NSAIDS advise against use during pregnancy and breastfeeding. It is always best to be cautious and ask your medical team about each individual NSAID you take.

Biological agents…

Biological Agents are a type of medication that suppress chemicals that cause inflammation in conditions like Rheumatoid Arthritis. They are similar to NSAIDs in that there are not many studies done on pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. (This is due to ethical concerns about them affecting the baby’s health.)

The good news is that laboratory-based testing done to discover the amount of these found in breast milk suggest that they are safe for breastfeeding mothers.

Again, the best thing you can do if your regular regiment includes Biological Agent medication is to speak with your medical team. Get their guidance on whether or not it is safe to continue to take them.

DMARDs

Does your normal regiment include Disease-Modifying Anti-rheumatoid Drugs (DMARDs)? If so, your doctor may recommend that you stop taking them. DMARDs pass into breast milk and transfer to your baby. These drugs are not safe for infant consumption in any form even filtered through their mother.

If you normally take DMARDs, meet with your team to form new pain management and flare up control plan.

Using diet to control RA during pregnancy and breastfeeding

If medication isn’t an option during pregnancy and breastfeeding, there are still ways to manage your flare-ups. Diet is an important part of many medical conditions, Rheumatoid Arthritis included. Not all recommendations found to control flare-ups are safe for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, so we’ve compiled a list of the most common do’s and don’ts.

While you are experimenting with a new pain regiment or weaning yourself off of one that cannot be maintained during pregnancy then you can attempt to add these dos to your diet in order to reduce your flare-ups. Some mothers also use diet as an organic all-natural alternative to medication as well.

Turmeric and Ginger

Turmeric and Ginger are common spices to add to your dishes to help with flare-ups. Experiment with new dishes or some brew ginger soda for consumption. If you’re not familiar with cooking with either spice, explore the Google to come up with multiple new recipes for your family to try. Omega 3 Oils like those found in many kinds of fish have also been proven helpful in reducing flare-ups. They are also found in other foods such as flax seeds and walnuts. 

Apple Cider Vinegar

The most popular suggestion for the flare-up control and relief are Apple Cider Vinegar. However, not all Apple Cider Vinegar is safe for breastfeeding women. Unpasteurized apple cider vinegar isn’t good for the baby or pregnancy. It is linked to stillbirths, miscarriages, and other adverse effects on infants. It is often cloudy due to the sediments found in it.

Pasteurized Apple Cider Vinegar, on the other hand, does not contain the dangerous sediments and bacteria that Unpasteurized does and is safe for consumption. Just make sure you check your source and speak with your doctor for more information on how to tell the difference and what brands might be safe for you.

Other foods like pineapples and cherries, which are often recommended for Rheumatoid Arthritis, may filter into breast milk and cause diarrhea in your infant. Citrus fruits, in general, are often recommended to be avoided in general for pregnant and breastfeeding moms.

It is also a good idea to avoid cooking oils that fry foods, foods high in sodium, deep fried foods, and foods high in sugar. All of these can make your Rheumatoid Arthritis flare up in a time when it is already a predisposition to do so.

Your Choice

The decision to have a child and then to breastfeed when you have a chronic and painful condition is a very personal one. It often comes with judgment from outside of you and your partner and can be discouraging at times. Understanding your options is an important part of speaking with your medical team. While this isn’t a medical article nor am I a medical professional I want to encourage you to do what makes you comfortable. All-natural solutions or sticking to medically safe prescription pain regiments are both valid choices. 

For more information about breastfeeding, see:

About the Author

Natasia Rea is regular Mom Advice Line contributor. She’s a 32-year-old native Kentucky resident and mother of two wonderful children.


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