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How Rheumatoid Arthritis Affects Your Life

Tips on working and living with RA.
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Getting Pregnant With RA and Having Babies

For young women with rheumatoid arthritis, dreams of having a family can be tinged with anxiety. Midnight feedings, hefting toddlers, running nonstop errands: motherhood is a physically demanding job. "They're asking, can I do this?" says Penny Cowan, executive director of the American Chronic Pain Association.

The decision to get pregnant is intensely personal, incorporating a woman's life goals as well as the realities of her rheumatoid arthritis.  

"Rheumatoid arthritis is not a contraindication to pregnancy," says Zashin. But realism about physical limitations is important. And because some RA medicines can cause birth defects, any woman considering pregnancy needs to talk to her rheumatologist.

Safe -- and Unsafe -- RA Medicines During Pregnancy

"Some medicines we use have a washout period ... methotrexate, for example, needs to be stopped for several months before trying to conceive," in both men and women, Zashin tells WebMD.

Other medicines, like prednisone, hydrochloroquine (Plaquenil), sulfasalazine, and biologic agents like Enbrel and Remicade, are generally considered safe during pregnancy.

One bright spot: pregnancy often turns out to be an effective treatment for rheumatoid arthritis. For unclear reasons, most women's RA improves significantly during pregnancy. Unfortunately, though, symptoms usually return soon after delivery.

Get Help and Enjoy Your Baby

A variety of assistive devices are available to help new moms handle the physical stresses of having a new baby on board. Special diaper changing tables, basins to bathe baby more easily, and slings to avoid straining joints while carrying the child are only a few.

Always consider your own rest and sanity during baby's first year, adds Iversen. "When the baby sleeps, you sleep," she suggests. "That's not the time to jump up and try to catch up on the laundry."

"I get photos from women with RA who tell me, I was scared, but [having a baby] was the best thing I ever did," says Cowan.

Raising Children While Coping With RA

Because rheumatoid arthritis is progressive, could RA prevent you from being the mom you want to be?

Rheumatologists today are optimistic. Thanks to new medicines for rheumatoid arthritis, "treatment for RA today is really a tale of two cities," says Zashin. In the past, RA often led to joint deformity and disability. No longer. In the last decade, most women who get early, aggressive care can avoid major disability.

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How does RA affect your life?