If you have ulcerative colitis (UC) and you're a new parent, there are ways you can make life a bit easier when you're caring for your little one. It's a lesson that 28-year-old mom Jennifer Guarnaccia learned when her first child was born 2 years ago.
UC has been a part of Guarnaccia's life since she was 13. For the last 4 years, she's had on-and-off flares of symptoms like stomach cramps, fatigue, mouth sores, and diarrhea. A new baby brought new challenges to her life.
"When things are hectic as they are with a new baby, it's easier to forget meds, postpone doctor's appointments, and cut corners by sacrificing ourselves over the care of our kids," says gastroenterologist Raymond Cross, MD, director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Program at the University of Maryland Medical Center.
But the right support and some planning ahead can make a huge difference in helping you manage UC and take care of your newborn, too.
Always Be Prepared
As a parent, it's key to plan around your symptoms.
Make sure you have a safe spot for your baby. Guarnaccia started taking her daughter to the bathroom with her. At home, she used the swing, bouncer, or the bassinet. Other safe places to put a baby are in the crib, car seat, carrier, or infant seat.
Mohit Goyal, a 40-year-old father of two, learned he had UC in 2000. He had a flare when his daughter was a newborn.
"When I had a flare, my digestive system dictated my schedule. I wouldn't take my daughter out if I could avoid it then," Goyal says. And "I would scope out the nearest bathroom wherever I went, in case of an emergency."
Other things to think about:
- Pick stores and restaurants with family-friendly bathrooms.
- Use a stroller that fits in tight bathroom stalls.
- Pack a change of clothes for yourself in the diaper bag.
- During a flare, have shorter outings when you can.
Get Some Backup
Support -- from a partner, family, friends, or paid help -- is critical for parents with UC.
Take advantage of a helping hand to grab a nap or to step away from the house a while. Ask someone to take your baby on an outing while you stay home.
"It's a relief for my husband or mother to take our daughter to the park or go to the store for me on a bad day," Guarnaccia says.
Stay on Your Meds
If you take your medications, you'll be more likely to keep flares under control and have fewer of them over time. Don't stop taking any drugs unless you check with your doctor first, and don't miss any doses.
"There's never a good time for a flare, but postpartum with a newborn is a particularly bad one," Cross says.
Ask your doctor about which UC drugs are safe when breastfeeding. Most of them are OK, but some are not.
Also, ask about medicines that don't treat flares but might make you feel better. For example, certain drugs can ease diarrhea and cramping.
It may sound impossible, but new parents with UC must get enough rest. Poor sleep and stress often come before flares, research suggests. No need to feel guilty about putting yourself first.
"If you can't take care of yourself, then you can't take care of your baby," says gastroenterologist Annie Feagins, MD, director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Clinic at the VA North Texas Health Care System.
Sleep when and as much as you can. Ask family or friends to fill in so you can get some ZZZs, she says.
Find a Bright Side
Sometimes, attitude is everything. Be creative, and try your best to be upbeat about your situation.
Due to surgery issues, Guarnaccia only had a 3% chance of getting pregnant. But she had no problems conceiving and is now expecting her second baby.
"I'm just trying to look on the bright side of things, because I know I'm lucky enough to get pregnant easily," she says.
Guarnaccia makes the most of her bathroom breaks by timing them with potty training visits for her daughter. When the new baby comes, she'll be ready with her plan for the bathroom, she says.
"Even if I'm in there 12 times a day, we make it work. We just take it one day at a time."
Postpartum depression can hit anyone, but your risk may be higher if you have an ongoing illness. If you feel depressed or anxious, talk to your doctor about working with a mental health professional who has experience treating people with long-lasting health problems.