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Fibromyalgia: Pregnancy and Breast Feeding

By: Suzanne Elvidge BSc (hons), MSc - Updated: 23 Oct 2012 |
 
Pregnancy Breastfeeding Babies

Fibromyalgia is more common in women than in men. For some women, the first symptoms of fibromyalgia begin during pregnancy.

Pregnancy

Pregnancy can be a very tiring experience, especially for someone who has the muscle pain and sleep disturbances associated with fibromyalgia.

In a study of fibromyalgia in pregnancy in Norway in the 1990s, symptoms got worse in 80% of the women involved, especially during the third trimester of pregnancy, and remained worse until about three months after the baby was born. The researchers also saw a higher level of post-natal depression that normal in women with fibromyalgia. However, the positive news is that fibromyalgia does not seem to have any health effects on the babies, with all in the study being born at full term and normal weight.

In another study in the USA, women with fibromyalgia reported more pain, tiredness and stiffness during pregnancy. However, some doctors say that they see reductions in fibromyalgia symptoms during pregnancy, with some women becoming almost symptom-free. It seems to depend on the individual – but in all cases, it’s important for pregnant women with fibromyalgia to try to eat and sleep well.

Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is the best kind of nutrition for babies, and it can have added advantages in fibromyalgia, because it means less weight to carry. However, because fibromyalgia causes pain in muscles and joints, this can make breastfeeding more difficult than for other women. Stress can cause fibromyalgia flares, and can also stop the milk from ‘letting down’ – so it’s vital to try and keep the environment as stress-free as possible, making sure its warm, comfortable, private and quiet, perhaps with low-volume soothing music.

To stop becoming stiff and sore, as breastfeeding can take a while, it’s important to have good support for the arms, back and legs during the process, such as pillows and footstools. Using a sling can help support the baby’s weight. Women with fibromyalgia could also try breastfeeding lying down.

People with fibromyalgia may be prone to yeast infections, and this can cause cracked or bleeding nipples.

Some women with fibromyalgia have to return to drug treatment to control their symptoms after birth, and so cannot continue with breastfeeding. This should not be considered a ‘failure’, as any time spent breastfeeding, even only a day or so, is important for nutrition and bonding, and babies can be healthy and happy on formula milk – bottle feeding also means that partners, friends and family can help with feeding, allowing the mother more time to rest.

Drugs During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Many of the drugs used to treat fibromyalgia (see ‘Dopamine Agonists in Fibromyalgia Syndrome’ and ‘Anti-Seizure Medication in Fibromyalgia Syndrome’ are not suitable for use during pregnancy and breastfeeding, as they may harm the unborn baby, or pass through the milk to the young child. Do not discontinue drugs without talking to the doctor, and discuss any plans for pregnancy before getting pregnant.

Non-drug treatments, including stretching, exercise (such as yoga, Pilates, swimming and water exercises), heat treatments (in water, but not at high temperatures – avoid heat pads and electric blankets) and massage can continue during pregnancy and breastfeeding. A magnesium supplement may also ease fibromyalgia symptoms during pregnancy and breastfeeding, but check with a doctor or pharmacist first.

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