What to Do When You Find Out You're Pregnant While on Medsby Julie Cerrone Croner Patient Advocate
I was shocked when I found out I was pregnant. It wasn’t something I had been preparing for, and it brought up a lot of fears.
I always thought that once I planned on getting pregnant, I would ensure that I was off all my psoriatic arthritis medications and taking the proper precautions to be healthy.
But, alas, life rarely goes as we plan. Am I right?
When I found out, I was taking Otezla (apremilast) and had taken pain killers (Vicodin) several times in the month prior. My supplement regimen was off the charts, and I was swallowing handfuls of holistic capsules every day for breakfast and before bed.
I wasn’t sure how the medications and supplements I was taking would affect my growing little one — were they having a negative impact? Or were they completely safe? I had no idea. Because of this, I panicked. I had a full on emotional meltdown. What was I supposed to do? What was my first course of action to be?
Here are my top three tips for how to move forward if you find out you’re pregnant while you’re on medications, especially if you're living with a chronic condition; hopefully, you can learn from my mistakes.
Call Your Doctors
When I was first put on medications for my psoriatic arthritis (Methotrexate and Humira), my rheumatologist gave me a long talk about the childbearing implications these medications presented. Back then, I honestly wanted any relief I could from my symptoms, so I didn’t bat an eye at these warnings. But I remember my dad being really worried about it, and his concerns popped back into my head when I found out I was actually pregnant. Was I harming the baby by taking my medications and supplements?
After my three at-home pregnancy tests confirmed I was pregnant, my first call was to my gynecologist. My mind began to spiral out of control, and I knew I needed to talk to a professional, pronto. I wish I had a recording of our telephone call because I’m sure I sounded ridiculously panicked.
As we talked, my gynecologist confirmed that there were no specific studies showing that the medications I was taking had a negative impact on pregnancy, but there also weren’t studies showing that they were safe for pregnancy. He suggested that I talk to my rheumatologist about the medications and what my course of action should be. His recommendation? If my rheumatologist and I both agreed I could stand to be off of the medications, he thought that’d be best.
So my second call was to my rheumatologist. She and I talked about the progress I had been making on the medications and whether I felt I should stop them. Because I had only been seeing about a 50 percent improvement in my symptoms at most, I had no doubt in my mind that I wanted to stop taking them during pregnancy. She agreed with me, and together we decided it was right for my situation.
My top tip for you if you find out you’re pregnant while taking medications is to call your doctors as soon as you can. No matter what kind of medication you’re taking, it’s imperative that you communicate with your health care team right away.
Some arthritis medications can have negative effects on your growing baby, so it’s important to talk through your options with your health care providers. In my case, my rheumatologist is my primary go-to, but other psoriatic arthritis patients may want to consider contacting their dermatologist, pain management specialist, and anyone else you see as well.
One important thing to note is that you should never stop taking your medications without consulting your doctor first. With some medications, there can be a detrimental effect if you stop cold turkey. So make sure you talk to your doctor to come up with a plan and do what’s best for you.
Evaluate Everything You’re Taking
Don’t just stop at your medications — look at everything that you’re taking.
I’m a big proponent of supplements and using them to manage psoriatic arthritis. Because of this, I was taking a crazy amount of pills on a daily basis.
The weeks leading up to when I found out I was pregnant, I began to feel a strange aversion to taking my pills. It was almost like my body was rejecting the thought of taking them. To that point, I had always enjoyed taking them because they made me feel great.
After talking to my acupuncturist, I found out that some of the supplements that I had been taking had been known to cause adverse effects when you’re pregnant. Because of this, I decided to stop taking most of my supplements during my pregnancy. Other than the prenatal vitamin I started taking, the only supplements I decided to continue were B12 and spirulina.
It’s important to do your research, and always check with your doctor about any supplements you are taking during pregnancy.
Do the Best You Can
I was freaking out when I first found out I was pregnant. I was so nervous that I was going to cause harm to my baby. But honestly, at that point, there was nothing I could change about the past. I had taken the medication because I needed it, and I had not known I was pregnant at the time.
We can only do the best we can with the information that we’re presented with at the time. So once I found out I was pregnant, I had important decisions to make going forward.
For me, that decision was to stop my medications. But please know this isn’t the only option. I know many mamas who continue their treatments during their pregnancy. I know others who have stopped while they’re pregnant, but start back up while they’re breastfeeding. There are many different options, depending on your situation and your medications, and the best plan for you will be the one you and your doctor decide on together.
Helpful Resources on Taking Medication During Pregnancy
There are great resources available that can help you feel comfortable about your decision to take medications during pregnancy. Here are a few that I used:
MotherToBaby: This site is a service from the nonprofit Organization of Teratology Information Specialists. They focus on publishing evidence-based information on the safety of medications and other exposures, specifically during pregnancy and breastfeeding. I found invaluable information here on many medications such as Otezla and other non-arthritis medications, like Zofran. And the best part of this site? They have active studies going on that you can participate in. When I was researching, I found out they had an active study on Otezla. Because I wanted to help future mom’s not panic as much as I did, I signed up to help.
Mamas Facing Forward: This closed Facebook group is a community of moms who have chronic illness and are looking for support and resources. It’s great to be in a group of likeminded women who are looking for similar answers. This group helped me realize that there’s no perfect way to go about pregnancy, and each of us has our own journey. We have to embrace it and enjoy the ride! I would suggest checking it out or finding another group that you can identify with that can help you with your questions.
Mindfulness and breathing exercises: Great examples of these can be found in the article 3 Breathing Exercises For Psoriatic Arthritis. Maintaining a meditation or mindfulness practice can help you make clear decisions for your pregnancy. It can help you work through a lot of your emotions and also help promote relaxation during a stressful time. You could also download an app for this purpose; I love to use the Headspace app, but you can find many more on your phone!
The Bottom Line
Sometimes, life doesn’t happen as planned, and that’s OK. These are my tips to you if you find yourself pregnant but have been taking medications.
Whatever you do, don’t stop taking your medication without consulting your doctor first. As soon as you know you’re pregnant, take a deep breath and follow these tips to avoid unnecessary panic.