Advocating for Pain Relief and Breastfeeding with RA

Last updated: October 2022

As a woman and a twice-over-mama, I have realized an unfortunate dichotomy among breastfeeding your child and choosing other things in your life.

For example, for many women it’s all about choosing to breastfeed versus working full-time. Or choosing to either breastfeed or sleep with help feeding from your partner. Possibly, it’s either choosing breastfeeding or choosing what’s right for your own mental or physical health. There’s a lot of choice-making surrounding breastfeeding that frankly just sucks.

Forced to choose between breastfeeding or my health

I might be naive and new to the RA community, but I never thought I would be in a position where I had to make a choice between breastfeeding or RA pain relief. However, that is exactly the position I found myself in this past month as I struggled through another postpartum RA flare with little guidance from my rheumatologist

Advocating for myself

So, how do you advocate for your own wants and wishes while balancing the need for relief from pain caused by RA? The answer: You advocate for both because you deserve both.

Postpartum flare mishap

“Try this prednisone and come back when you are done breastfeeding to start Methotrexate,” my rheumatologist suggested.

“Is there nothing else I can take while nursing?”

“Not really.”

I left the appointment and did what she suggested, starting a prednisone burst for pain. It helped until the medication was gone and my pain came back full force. Waking up with sore and stiff hands, especially when you have to automatically jump to care for little ones, is not the easiest thing. I really struggled changing diapers, lifting the baby, and cradling while breastfeeding. I was fed up with being in pain and taking Tylenol all day, so I took to the internet to find out my options.

Looking for support and answers

On Facebook, I joined a few motherhood and RA groups where I knew I could speak to other women in my position. Within minutes, I realized that these women were more educated on breastfeeding and RA than my rheumatologist. There were other safe options I could take while feeding my child including injectable biologics such as Cimzia. I educated myself about the risks to me and my baby and decided I would email my rheumatologist to see if she could prescribe a biologic to me. What did I have to lose? Nothing, just my chance to provide for my child.

Standing up for my needs

Written in my email, I described my pain and how it was affecting my daily life. In addition, I made it clear that I was not willing to stop breastfeeding when there were other options like Cimzia that I could try before Methotrexate. Thankfully, my rheumatologist agreed we could try Cimzia after I took a TB test and my insurance approved the medication (which is notorious for being denied). Currently, we are in the process of appealing the first denial but I feel like I advocated for my own wants and wishes and what was best for treating my RA.

When dealing with an autoimmune disease like RA, there's so much that is taken from you. Choosing to feed your child shouldn’t be something else to give up, especially when it is important to you. Hopefully, starting a biologic like Cimzia in the future will allow me the chance to continue doing both. Never stop advocating for yourself (and in this case your little ones).

Have you ever had to advocate for yourself when you felt stuck between two choices? Share your experience below!

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