Pregnancy can present some unique challenges for women who have existing health concerns. This can be true for women with autoimmune diseases, who often have questions for their OB/GYN regarding what they can expect and how to manage their disease. On Healthful Woman, Dr. Samantha Do explained some of the basics on this subject. Here are some things you need to know about autoimmune disease and pregnancy.
An autoimmune disease is a health condition in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the body as it would attack bacteria, viruses, or other foreign substances. Some common autoimmune diseases include type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, IBS, or lupus.
During pregnancy, it is believed that the immune system does not attack the baby’s cells as a foreign body for two reasons. One is that the placenta “has special cells that protect the baby from the maternal circulation and the maternal body,” states Dr. Do. The other reason is that the immune system response is lowered.
Because the immune response is less in pregnancy, women with autoimmune conditions often experience reduced immune responses during their pregnancies. Dr. Do explains that the “body is less likely to attack itself” during pregnancy because of this reduced response and that those with autoimmune diseases may do better in pregnancy because their immune system is suppressed. With the immune suppression, the woman’s body is less likely to attack its own cells.
For women who take medication or undergo treatments for their autoimmune disease, most can continue their treatments throughout pregnancy and breastfeeding. Dr. Do explains that there are very few medications that absolutely must be avoided in pregnancy. Most medications used for autoimmune conditions, like hydroxychloroquine and Plaquenil, have been in use for many years with substantial evidence to suggest that they are safe to use during pregnancy or breastfeeding. Dr. Do adds that “when moms have better control of their disease, babies do better, too,” so it is generally recommended to continue treatments.
However, it is best to check with your primary care physician and OB/GYN before taking any medication in pregnancy. In some cases, Dr. Do advises that it’s “helpful to talk with your OB or an MFM before you get pregnant” to “strategize and plan for pregnancy.” In some cases, it may be recommended that you take a lower dose of your medication or take new medications, like aspirin, to reduce your chances of complications during pregnancy. For other patients, your doctor may recommend taking vitamins or supplements such as folic acid before you get pregnant.
Whether you are already pregnant or planning to become pregnant, scheduling an appointment with an OB/GYN or Maternal Fetal Medicine Specialist is an important way to help you manage your health, including autoimmune conditions. To schedule an appointment at Maternal Fetal Medicine Associates in New York City, call our office at (212) 235-1335 or contact us online.
Maternal Fetal Medicine blogs are intended for educational purposes only and do not replace certified professional care. Medical conditions vary and change frequently. Please ask your doctor any questions you may have regarding your condition to receive a proper diagnosis or risk analysis. Thank you!