My daughter was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at age 25. That was eight years ago. Today she has two healthy children and she is a great mom. That story is typical for moms with MS. MS is one of the most common autoimmune diseases in women. It usually starts during peak childbearing years.
Back in the 1950s, women with MS were advised not to have children. They were told that pregnancy makes MS worse. Thankfully, many studies since then have proved that advice to be wrong. In fact, pregnancy improves the symptoms of MS. My daughter was off all her medications at that time and says she never felt better!
An autoimmune disease occurs when your body’s defense system – also known as the immune system – attacks cells of your body instead of foreign invaders like germs. In MS, the attacks occur in the lining around nerves. Pregnancy is like having a foreign invader inside your body. To protect the little developing invader, the body naturally shuts down some of its immune response. So, it is not surprising that pregnancy improves MS symptoms.
More Good News About MS and Pregnancy
If you have MS, there is no reason to fear pregnancy. MS does not make it harder to get pregnant. There is no evidence that MS increases your risk for a miscarriage or any other complication of pregnancy. You won’t need any special type of pregnancy care. You are not considered a high-risk pregnancy.
My daughter worried that she might pass MS to her children. Studies show that this is very unlikely. MS is not an inherited disease. The risk of getting MS during a child’s lifetime goes up very slightly if the child’s mother has MS, but the risk is still only about two percent. There is no evidence at all that MS increases the risk of any type of birth defects or childhood disease.
In the past, many young women with MS avoided pregnancy because they thought they would be too exhausted to care for their children. No doubt, caring for children is exhausting, but most women with MS can handle it. There is just no evidence that caring for a child has any long-term impact on a woman’s MS.
Finally, breastfeeding may continue the positive impact of pregnancy on MS. There is certainly no evidence that breastfeeding makes MS worse or is any danger to a baby.
Some Cautions About MS and Pregnancy
Many new medications have changed the lives of people with MS. It is not the same condition it was back in the 50s! But, as with most other medications, they are not approved for use in pregnant women. So, if you want to get pregnant, you should talk to your doctor about stopping your medication. If you get pregnant while on medication, there is no hard evidence that it will harm your baby, but you should let your doctor know.
There is a risk of a relapse after pregnancy, usually during the first few months. About 20 percent of women report a flare-up of symptoms after pregnancy. These symptoms do not change the course of the disease. Breastfeeding may help prevent a relapse, but if you have a relapse, you may need to get back on your meds and stop breastfeeding.
If you decide not to breastfeed, your doctor will start you back on your medication soon after pregnancy. New medications for MS do a good job of preventing relapse symptoms. Women with MS do have issues with fatigue and an MS flare can mean you need a little more help with the kids. But the days of fearing pregnancy with MS are gone! If you want a family, talk to your doctor about planning for pregnancy. Thankfully, there is no reason not to.