Family Planning with a Chronic Health Condition: Navigating the Challenges

Family Planning With A Chronic Health Condition: Navigating The Challenges

Navigating family planning can be especially complex when you're living with a chronic health condition. Erica Lemons' story is a compelling example of the challenges you might face — from stopping medications to waiting months before even attempting conception. Almost 3 out of 10 women in the U.S. share similar experiences, underscoring the importance of discussing your plans with your healthcare provider early on. Shared decision-making can help balance the risks and benefits, ensuring you get the best possible guidance for your health and future pregnancy. With the right support and preparation, you can manage both your chronic condition and your path to parenthood. Do you ever wonder how to manage family planning while navigating the complexities of a chronic health condition? You're not alone. Many people find themselves facing a myriad of questions and challenges when trying to start a family while managing a chronic illness. It's a journey full of decisions, discussions, and detailed planning.

Family Planning with a Chronic Health Condition: Navigating the Challenges

Imagine Erica Lemons, who knew her journey to motherhood wouldn't be straightforward. Despite her chronic health condition, she was determined to get pregnant. “My doctor told me to talk to him before I got pregnant because of possible complications, so that's the first thing I did,” Erica explains.

She quickly realized the journey was more complicated than she initially thought. For instance, she had to stop taking her chronic illness medications and wait several months before attempting to conceive. “I was shocked — I didn't realize how long I had to be off the medicines before I could even try,” she said. “My advice for anyone thinking about getting pregnant is to talk to your doctor sooner than later. You may have to wait longer than you think.”

Chronic Conditions and Family Planning: The Stats and Reality

Nearly 3 out of 10 women and people assigned female at birth in the U.S. live with multiple chronic conditions. These usually require regular medication. This makes conversations about family planning with your healthcare provider (HCP) crucial, even if pregnancy is only a future possibility. An important aspect to consider is that aggressive treatments prescribed for chronic conditions might not be suitable if you're contemplating pregnancy.

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Unfortunately, not all HCPs initiate conversations about pregnancy planning. This could be due to a lack of time, knowledge, or skills. In fact, one review of pregnancy planning among women with chronic conditions that many felt their health information needs weren't met, and they desired more substantial discussions with their HCPs.

What is Shared Decision-Making?

Shared decision-making involves deciding your treatment path after a detailed conversation with your HCP. This process becomes especially vital for people with chronic health conditions who are planning a family.

HCPs manage your health before, during, and after pregnancy and provide guidance that can influence family planning. “Some diseases worsen during pregnancy and some improve, and knowing this would help you determine a good time to start trying to become pregnant,” says Connie Newman, M.D., adjunct professor of medicine at NYU Grossman School of Medicine and a member of HealthyWomen's Women's Health Advisory Council.

Understanding Chronic Health Conditions

Chronic health conditions last more than a year and can range from multiple sclerosis (MS) to diabetes to high blood pressure. Both the condition and the medication can impact pregnancy and your ability to conceive. Certain medications can lead to serious problems during pregnancy, like preterm birth and birth defects.

“Patients should tell their HCP about their plans for pregnancy and ask if the treatment prescribed is safe during pregnancy. If not, ask about alternative medications that are safe,” Newman suggests. “Patients should also inquire if the disease will worsen during pregnancy and how their medications should be adjusted.” Changes could include dosage adjustments, frequency changes, or switching to a different medication altogether.

Family Planning With A Chronic Health Condition: Navigating The Challenges

Preparing for Pregnancy: Essential Questions to Ask Your Healthcare Provider

If you haven't yet talked to your HCP about your pregnancy plans, consider scheduling a preconception counseling visit. During this appointment, your HCP will review your treatment plan and discuss how pregnancy might affect your overall health.

Newman advises writing down your questions about pregnancy and bringing them to your appointment. Important questions to consider include:

  • Will my disease get worse during pregnancy or improve? And when will this happen (first, second, or third trimester)?
  • Will the medication I'm taking be harmful during pregnancy, including very early pregnancy before I might even know I'm pregnant?
  • Can you describe the risks of the medication?
  • Will I need to stop the medication or switch to a different one if I'm pregnant? Should I do this while trying to conceive or after confirming pregnancy?
  • Can I breastfeed while taking this medication?
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You can also discuss these topics during your regular well visit if you haven't already done so.

Weighing Risks and Benefits of Treatment Options

Discussing the risks and benefits of treatment options is a crucial part of shared decision-making. “The HCP and the patient should discuss the risks and benefits to formulate a plan for medication use during pregnancy,” says Newman.

Beyond discussions with your HCP, Newman suggests consulting reputable online sources for potential effects of treatment options, including patient information on drug labels or drug labels for prescribers.

Managing chronic conditions may also necessitate involving specialists and other HCPs in your family planning process. For instance, Erica Lemons' HCP connected her with a fertility specialist and other healthcare providers along her journey. She appreciated their honest conversations, which provided invaluable support during a challenging and overwhelming time.

After much planning, waiting, and anxiety, Lemons gave birth to a baby boy in 2012. “Remember to be kind to yourself and prioritize your mental health,” she advises. “Put yourself first.”

Family Planning With A Chronic Health Condition: Navigating The Challenges

A Holistic Approach: Integrated Care Team

Family planning with a chronic health condition often requires an integrated approach involving multiple healthcare specialists. Your HCP could coordinate with various specialists including:

  1. Fertility Specialists: To address any fertility issues.
  2. Obstetricians/Gynecologists (OB/GYNs): For maternal-fetal health.
  3. Chronic Condition Specialists: For conditions like diabetes, MS, or hypertension.
  4. Mental Health Professionals: To address mental and emotional well-being.

An integrated care team ensures that all aspects of your health are monitored and managed cohesively, providing holistic care throughout your pregnancy journey.

Mental Health: An Essential Component

Managing a chronic health condition while planning a family can be mentally and emotionally taxing. Mental health support, therefore, becomes an essential part of this journey. It's beneficial to consider therapy or counseling to navigate any anxiety, stress, or depression that may arise.

Tips for Maintaining Mental Health:

  • Regular Counseling: Seek professional mental health support to manage stress and anxiety.
  • Support Groups: Join groups for those facing similar challenges.
  • Open Communication: Keep communication open with your partner, family, and friends for emotional support.
  • Self-Care: Make time for activities that promote and well-being.
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Family Planning With A Chronic Health Condition: Navigating The Challenges

Nutrition and Lifestyle Adjustments

Good nutrition and lifestyle choices play a critical role in preparing your body for a pregnancy, especially when managing a chronic condition.

Nutrition Tips:

  • Balanced Diet: Incorporate a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
  • Hydration: Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
  • Supplements: Consult your HCP about prenatal vitamins or necessary supplements.

Lifestyle Adjustments:

  • Regular Exercise: Engage in moderate exercise routines as advised by your HCP.
  • Sleep: Ensure adequate and quality sleep.
  • Avoid Harmful Substances: Stay away from tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drugs.

Preparing for Different Pregnancy Scenarios

Chronic health conditions can lead to different pregnancy scenarios. Being prepared for these situations can help in managing your expectations and planning effectively.

Potential Pregnancy Scenarios:

  1. High-Risk Pregnancy: Some conditions may categorize the pregnancy as high-risk, necessitating specialized care and frequent monitoring.
  2. Complications: Awareness of possible complications like preterm birth or gestational diabetes can be helpful in their early identification and management.
  3. Birth Plans: Discussing different birth plan options with your HCP can prepare you for delivery methods best suited to your condition.

Family Planning With A Chronic Health Condition: Navigating The Challenges

Importance of Regular Monitoring and Check-Ups

Regular monitoring and check-ups are essential when planning a family with a chronic health condition. They help in early detection of any complications and ensure timely intervention.

Types of Monitoring:

  • Prenatal Check-Ups: Regular visits to your OB/GYN or midwife.
  • Specialist Appointments: Frequent check-ins with specialists managing your chronic condition.
  • Routine Tests: Engage in blood tests, ultrasounds, and any other monitoring tests recommended by HCPs.

Building a Support Network

Building a robust support network can provide emotional, mental, and practical support throughout the pregnancy journey.

Components of a Support Network:

  1. Family and Friends: Lean on close ones for emotional support.
  2. Healthcare Team: Maintain open communication with your integrated care team.
  3. Support Groups: Join support groups for individuals navigating similar health and family planning challenges.
  4. Community Resources: Utilize community resources and programs designed to aid pregnant individuals managing chronic conditions.

Family Planning With A Chronic Health Condition: Navigating The Challenges

Postpartum Considerations

Family planning doesn't stop once the baby is born. Managing your health postpartum is equally important to ensure your well-being and your ability to care for your new baby.

Postpartum Health Tips:

  • Postpartum Check-Ups: Regular visits to your HCP to monitor your chronic condition.
  • Mental Health: Continue mental health support to manage postpartum depression or anxiety.
  • Physical Recovery: Focus on physical recovery through light exercises and a balanced diet.


Family planning with a chronic health condition involves navigating a complex landscape full of unique challenges and detailed planning. However, with the right information, a supportive healthcare team, and a clear plan, you can manage your chronic condition while successfully starting a family. Just like Erica Lemons, it's essential to seek guidance from your HCP early on, prepare yourself mentally and physically, and be open to the adaptations required for a pregnancy and postpartum period. Putting your health and well-being first will not only benefit you but also pave the way for a healthy and joyful family life.


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