When I became pregnant for the first time in 2013, I was so shocked at the lack of knowledge available about pregnancy and fibromyalgia. My doctor and the specialist I was sent to knew little. One intimated I ought to feel better. I was too exhausted and sore to consider researching. I hadn’t yet realized that it wouldn’t be a doctor who would be riding the white horse to save me from the fibromyalgia.
As an attempt at processing my suffering, I began writing a diary of sorts on a blog.
After the delivery and as my son got older, I was able to formulate ideas for coping better based on what I had written. I also began researching through the limited data available. Highly dissatisfied with what existed, I kept writing, hoping to help others avoid the severe knowledge gap.
I wrote through a second pregnancy and delivery in 2016. I’m currently on my third (and final) round and still writing. My experiences have improved dramatically and that is all due to my own research and experimentation.
Some of the symptoms of fibromyalgia can overlap with those of pregnancy, making for a double dose of pain and fatigue for some of us. For others with fibromyalgia, pregnancy is a holiday from our usual symptoms. Unfortunately, we won’t know which camp we fall into until we are pregnant. Our experience can also vary from pregnancy to pregnancy.
In 2017, I undertook an informal survey of other mamas while writing my book Pregnancy and Fibromyalgia. I found approximately 50% of respondents experienced a worsening of their symptoms during pregnancy. A postpartum flare up had a much higher incidence, of 70%.
Whether our symptoms are worse or better, I have several tips to cope with illness during pregnancy, cultivated from research, my own personal experiences and the informal surveys I have undertaken.
Fibromyalgia and Pregnancy
1. Learn All You can about Pregnancy and Fibromyalgia.
Knowledge is power, and I definitely feel more empowered and prepared thanks to my research. I find that understanding fibromyalgia and pregnancy (separately and together) lessens any anxiety around not knowing what to expect. I felt very vulnerable during my first pregnancy, and this greatly reduced the second and third times the more knowledge I gained.
2. Manage Fibromyalgia Symptoms as well as You can Before Trying to Conceive.
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In his article on a healthy pregnancy, Dr Teitelbaum suggests waiting until women have been following, “an integrated metabolic regimen for about a year before pregnancy, so that people have largely recovered before they get pregnant.” I’m not sure that I would ever have become a mama if I’d waited until I was “largely recovered,” but having been in a better place thanks to fibromyalgia treatment with a new medicine prior to my third pregnancy has made all the difference. Despite other complications, my fibromyalgia has remained better controlled this time.
3. Prioritize Rest and Sleep.
It isn’t a secret that pregnant women struggle with sleep, from pregnancy insomnia to the usual aches and pains, click into any forum about pregnancy and you will find many women having sleep issues. For a person with fibromyalgia, this can be exacerbated. I found this to be true and suffered from even worse sleep during my first two pregnancies (I couldn’t believe that could happen!). To counteract the lack of sleep and rest, I found meditation to be very restorative, and it made me feel so nice to be able to achieve some deep rest. Since I have begun sleeping better in the past year, it has carried through to this pregnancy and makes a huge difference. I still utilise meditation every day at lunchtime and this gets me through the afternoon. I believe this is what is helping me to reduce the pain and fatigue levels.
4. Nourish Your Body with Good Food and Supplements.
There is a lot of information suggesting that people with chronic illnesses like fibromyalgia suffer from certain deficiencies, magnesium is often mentioned. During pregnancy the baby takes a lot of our nutrients, I found myself massively depleted of iron in both of my previous pregnancies. Dr Teitelbaum’s article above lists some vital nutrients to take to support our bodies during pregnancy. Keeping my iron levels up made a dramatic difference for me, but for you it might be something else, so do keep an eye on your blood test results.
5. Get a Pain Management Plan in Place.
Understanding which medicines you can and can’t take during pregnancy is a really important consideration. I found it best to have the medicine talk with my doctor prior to becoming pregnant. I also researched the safety of my medicines in pregnancy online prior to my appointment, so that I could make informed decisions along with my doctor. Your quality of life counts and unmanaged pain will have an impact on you and your baby. If your doctor is being too conservative, please do some research and speak with another one. In addition to the medicinal side of it, I made a plan for the natural pain management mechanisms I would be using. I found that having my natural coping mechanisms well established to be very helpful. Having your options ingrained so that you don’t have to think about what to do to cope when pain levels escalate is important. For me that is my heat pack, a warm shower, lavender essential oil massage rub, pelvic tilts and meditation.
6. Have a Good Support System for The Final Trimester, Delivery, and First Six Weeks.
When the pain or fatigue is worse, I tend to forget good coping mechanisms. Having a plan for what to do during a flare is indispensable. I don’t have to think through what to do, I just follow a preset list. The third trimester, labor, and early weeks were definitely good times to be pre-prepared with a list of coping mechanisms. I could write an entire article on those first six weeks with a new baby alone, but I found support and company to be the number one thing to make the experience better. With my first baby, my husband was sent home from the hospital at night and I was left alone, in pain, with a tiny baby who wanted the comfort of his womb back. With my second, I wouldn’t let my husband leave, and the result was a much less stressful, vulnerable experience.
It has helped me to remember that this time is finite. Pregnancy has an end date and then we begin parenthood. It is also good to remember that we have the power to impact our daily life greatly, and that it may in fact be ourselves, not our doctors, on the white horse.
his article was first published on ProHealth.com on September 1, 2018 and was updated on January 8, 2021.
Melissa Reynolds is a mama who’s been fighting fibromyalgia for more than a decade. After struggling through the first half of her twenties exhausted and miserably sore without any doctor interested in helping her, she decided to begin fighting for herself. She shares the results of her journey on her blog Melissa vs Fibromyalgia and is the author of Pregnancy and Fibromyalgia and Melissa vs Fibromyalgia: My Journey Fighting Chronic Pain, Chronic Fatigue and Insomnia. She lives in Auckland, New Zealand with her husband and children.