For Women With MS: Making Decisions About Pregnancy, Breastfeeding & More
By Elizabeth Salas, MPH, Teratology Information Specialist, MotherToBaby California
If you have Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and are currently pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning a pregnancy, where do you go when you have questions about MS or MS treatments? In this day and age, the first place you might go is the Internet. With no shortage of information at our fingertips, it may seem the answers to all of our questions are just a web search away. But when it comes to chronic conditions and treatments in pregnancy, reliable and accurate information isn’t always easy to find, and the answers may not be so simple. So let’s try a different approach, shall we? First, let’s start with the facts!
The Good News
Studies about MS and pregnancy are encouraging. To date they show MS does not affect a woman’s ability to get pregnant. For most women with MS, they are less likely to have a relapse during pregnancy especially in the 3rd trimester. Research shows pregnancy does not worsen MS or the progression of the disease. MS during pregnancy also does not increase the risk for birth defects, and does not increase the risk of major complications in pregnancy, during delivery, or for the newborn. In fact, some studies suggest pregnancy may have a protective effect for women, by slowing down or reducing the progression of MS – although more research is needed to confirm this finding.
Making Progress in Treating MS
Ten years ago only a handful of treatments were available to treat MS. These medications, such as Betaseron® (Interferon Beta-1b) or Avonex® (Interferon Beta-1a), are called disease modifying medications because they slow down the natural course of MS while reducing the number and severity of relapses. Today there are twice as many disease modifying medications available - but the big question here is what do we know about these treatments during pregnancy or lactation?
The somewhat frustrating answer is that there is very little information about the safety of the newest medications during pregnancy or lactation. For this reason, standard practice has generally suggested women with MS stop treatment with disease modifying medications at least 1 menstrual cycle prior to attempting to conceive. Older medications used to improve symptoms during a relapse, such as Solu-Medrol® (methylprednisolone) or prednisone, have been around since the 1950s and much has been published on their use in pregnancy. (For more information about prednisone/prednisolone in pregnancy and lactation, see our Fact Sheet
.) Regardless of which medications you may be taking, it’s important for women with MS to plan their pregnancies and discuss treatment and options with your doctor before trying to become pregnant.
But what if your pregnancy, like nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States, was not planned? You may still have many questions about how your MS – and any medication you may be taking to treat it – could impact your pregnancy, such as: Could my medication have an effect on my developing baby? Will additional tests be needed during pregnancy to make sure my baby is all right? Should I continue taking my MS medications during pregnancy? If I stopped my medication, when can – or when should - I start taking them again? Can I breastfeed while taking these medications? The questions may seem overwhelming, but the good news is there are specialists who can answer your questions and they are just a phone call away!
Making The Call
Hello and thank you for calling MotherToBaby. We’re here for you!
I am a counselor with MotherToBaby, a group of experts dedicated to providing women, healthcare providers, and the general public with accurate and up-to-date information on exposures during pregnancy and breastfeeding. We answer questions about everything from medications and cosmetics, to chronic conditions, like multiple sclerosis. Our service is FREE, confidential, and available for you. To speak to a counselor, call us toll free at (866) 626-6847.
Making A Difference
Every pregnant woman wants a healthy pregnancy. After personally talking to pregnant women with chronic conditions for nearly a decade, one thing has become very clear: we need better answers about how medications affect pregnancy. MotherToBaby has a follow-up program for pregnant women with MS, regardless of whether they are currently taking medication. We are learning more every day thanks to pregnant women with MS who are sharing information about their experiences. If you’d like to know more about current programs on MS and pregnancy, please contact one of our MotherToBaby Pregnancy Studies experts toll free at (877) 311-8972. You can help us make a difference, and together we can find the answers.
Elizabeth Salas is the Lead Teratology Information Specialist for MotherToBaby California, a non-profit that provides information to healthcare providers and the general public about medications and more during pregnancy and breastfeeding. She is based at the University of California, San Diego, and is passionate about the work MotherToBaby is doing to promote healthy moms, healthy pregnancies and healthy babies.
MotherToBaby is a service of the international Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS), a suggested resource by many agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If you have questions about medications, vaccines, diseases, or other exposures, call MotherToBaby toll-FREE at 866-626-6847 or call the Pregnancy Studies team directly at 877-311-8972. You can also visit MotherToBaby.org to browse a library of fact sheets, as well as visit our Multiple Sclerosis and Pregnancy page at MotherToBaby Pregnancy Studies, www.PregnancyStudies.org.
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