Caring for a Newborn When You Have RA
Congratulations! You have a newborn baby!
Like other new parents, you are most likely feeling a bit anxious as you look down on this marvelous creation. You may even be asking yourself: “Will I be able to give this child all it needs while dealing with the ups and downs of rheumatoid arthritis?” Please, take a deep breath and rest assure that you will find the path that works for you and your little one. To get started, I have some advice from moms with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Concerns and tips from new moms
To get the most up-to-date concerns of mothers today, I checked in with the moms at Mamas Facing Forward, which has a Facebook group designed by mama-of-three Mariah Leach who also lives with RA. The group provides support for parents considering pregnancy or adoption and all aspects of parenting with a chronic illness.
“I save energy for the things that matter.” — Lauren
One of the side effects of both RA and parenting is fatigue. Late nights meeting baby’s needs leaves little time to rest when your body needs it most.
It’s easy to push your needs aside. Ask a friend to check in on you frequently and make sure you are caring for yourself. Rest while baby sleeps, accept/hire help, take advantage of online ordering, and choose foods that are going to nourish you.
“I used a breastfeeding pillow to bring the baby up to me rather than bend my body down to baby. This helped prevent back and neck strain.” — Lauren
While the benefits of nursing are numerous to both you and baby, making the decision to breastfeed and be the sole source of your baby’s nutrition can be an added challenge to your RA body. Take steps to accommodate your physical needs. Ask for help lifting your baby. Find chairs and cushions that support her so the strain is not left to your body.
“I'm a huge BFing advocate, but only when it's best for all parties involved.” — Lauren
Even after the decision to breastfeed has been made, you may find that you don’t have the energy levels for it or your RA spins out of control. While there are many medications safe for nursing — having a spouse, friend, or family member feed your baby while you nap or take a few minutes to care for yourself is more than OK. As a mother, there are numerous ways to love your child.
Changing diapers and dressing baby
“I'm using the onesies with snaps. If someone else is home I ask for help. Sometimes I just pull them down over the shoulders, so I don't have to use the snaps. Sometimes I just leave the snaps open.” — Kim
Difficulties that parents with RA may not consider beforehand are all the snaps, buttons, and Velcro that come with newborn clothing. Consider clothing that is easy to get on and off and look into brands such as EZ that will work better with your body.
“Snap-N-Go stroller — because carrying a car seat is impossible. I couldn't have carried my 10-pound newborn babies around otherwise.” — Elizabeth
Getting a fidgety child into a car seat may leave you in a state of exhaustion with or without RA. But what happens when your hands are sore and swollen and you can’t unbuckle the seat to get him out? Invest in tools such as UnbuckleMe to help. Try out car seats and baby carriers while flaring to find ones that work best for you.
Having energy for other children
Parenting more than one child is a juggling act even in the best-case scenario. One of my fondest memories is snuggling up to read or play with my two-year-old son while I nursed my daughter. I knew I didn’t have the energy for everyone, but together, I could spend time with both. Also, I realized early on that I couldn’t be everything to my children and relied on my husband to pick up the missing pieces.
Enough time off work
“I get FMLA for me and my toddler but if I have a second baby my maternity leave counts against the 12 weeks of FMLA for the year. I could very well run out of leave and FMLA leave if we have a second child.” — Tammy
Normal recovery after birth takes time as does your body as you adjust to postpartum with RA. Taking advantage of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may be an option for you, but if you’ve already used up some of that time, anxiety can kick in.
Making it work with a newborn and RA
New motherhood is a time like no other. You are trying to figure out who you are in this little person’s life. Even in the best scenario, it is tough. Please be gentle with yourself. You have the dual job now of caring for your baby and your RA. It may seem at times that you can’t do both, but one of the amazing things about mothers is we keep trying and somewhere down the road, we realize we made it!
Ask for help
As a new mom, take all the help you can get and be specific with the help you need. When my children were younger, a new mom emailed our playgroup of various ages sharing that she needed help with laundry, cleaning, and a nap. Together, our group created “mother’s helpers.” Older kids helped with some of the needed chores such as folding clothes, vacuuming, and playing with younger kids while mom napped. Rely on family and friends if they live nearby.
Prepare for flares
“I prepared for flares by buying things that would make life easier. I tested out baby carriers to find one that my hands could open while flaring. I prepare dinners for a month. I use a Boppy pillow for feeding and that helps a lot to relieve my elbows and shoulders.” — Kim
Flares are most likely going to happen, so be proactive. Make flare days as doable as possible for both you and your baby.
Find support among other moms
Please don’t do motherhood alone. Join groups such as Mamas Facing Forward for online help. La Leche League, churches, and neighborhoods offer face to face gatherings. Look to family and friends that support your decisions. Surround yourself with like-minded mothers who allow you to cry and complain a few minutes and then move on with life. Remember, you may have to try a few groups before you find a good fit.
Work with a physical therapist
“My physical therapists were helpful in addressing my physical concerns and brainstorming solutions.” — Lauren
Caring for your newborn will require your body to move in ways you never expected. A physical therapist may be able to assist you in ways to reduce the strain on your body.
Find products that meet your needs
Word of mouth is one of the best ways to discover new products that will meet your individual needs as a parent living with RA. Never feel embarrassed to share what you struggle with as a parent. Also, be sure to check out Parents with Disabilities Online for a wide range of products from baby bathtubs and cribs to wheelchair nursing trays.
Add medications when needed
“I eventually came to the realization that if I wanted to have quality of life with my family, I needed to start my meds again.” — Elizabeth
Perfectionism is a side effect of wanting to be the best parent you can be. However, if your body isn’t cooperating, it may be time to add medications back to your routine. Luckily, many meds are compatible with breastfeeding.
“I look at raising my kids as the biggest hardest job I could ever have & there’s no reason why I can’t do just as good of a job as any other healthy mom.” — Stephanie
Most importantly, let go of any images you have of being the perfect mama. Also, let any worries of your RA harming your children float away. My children are now young adults who survived and even flourished while living with an RA mom.
You will be fine
You are on the road to amazing memories and unforgettable moments. Yes, RA will be an interruption at times, but what I have learned as a mom raising two children while living with RA is that I am still the person they turned to for advice, a hug, or a simple word of encouragement. When they think of me as a mama, it is the love I gave them, not my RA, that they remember. Yours will, too. Enjoy!