A: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks your joints, causing them to become warm, swollen, red, and very painful; it affects up to one in 1,000 pregnant women every year. The good news is that women with RA are just as likely to have healthy babies as anyone else.
What's more, about 75 percent of women with RA actually find that their symptoms improve during pregnancy, although for others, the additional weight and typical pregnancy aches and pains may worsen the pain. Some women with RA may not need any medications during pregnancy, but if you do, there are many safe options. Your doctor will likely suggest acetaminophen (Tylenol) or anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen and naproxen (but these can only be used early in pregnancy, since later on they increase your baby's risk of developing a heart problem). If these don't help, you may be able to take a steroid, like prednisone, to ease swelling. Many women also swear by natural remedies like massage, ice packs, or warm baths (no hot tubs, though -- too much heat can be dangerous for your baby).
RA does not usually interfere with labor and delivery, and your doctor or nurse will be able to guide you into comfortable labor positions that work around any joint limitations you may have.
A few months after baby's birth, however, your RA symptoms are likely to flare up again. If you're breastfeeding, talk to your pediatrician about which medications are safe for your baby. It's also a good idea to have some help at home during this time, since caring for a newborn can be quite exhausting for any new mom, let alone those with chronic health conditions.