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Currently, no scientific evidence suggests that people with cerebral palsy can’t have children of their own. In fact, numerous people all over the world with cerebral palsy have successfully given birth to healthy children. Yet, there are special circumstances that should be understood beforehand to provide the best chances of success during and after pregnancy.
Cerebral Palsy and Fertility
There is no evidence that cerebral palsy affects fertility. There is also no increased risk of having a miscarriage or a premature baby when compared to people who don’t have cerebral palsy. The disorder is not inherited, and women with cerebral palsy usually do not have any long-lasting effects that exacerbate their disorder after childbirth.
Before You Become Pregnant
Many people with cerebral palsy rely on medication to help with spasticity and other issues. Before becoming pregnant, it is important to speak with your primary healthcare provider or obstetrician to ensure that any medications you take will not harm your baby or cause any birth defects.
Just as anyone else who plans to have a baby, women with cerebral palsy should always avoid alcohol and smoking. They should strive to be in excellent physical shape before pregnancy. Being physically fit is even more critical for women with disorders and disabilities.
Pregnancy and Cerebral Palsy
Pregnancy affects women with cerebral palsy differently. While one person will have increased spasms during pregnancy, another person may see that their cerebral palsy symptoms are greatly reduced. If you experience increased spasms, be sure to speak with your health care provider about options such as antispastic medications that may be safe to take during pregnancy.
Some women with cerebral palsy choose to enroll in physical therapy or hire a personal trainer during pregnancy. For instance, Ginni Buller, a mother of two children, has spastic cerebral palsy. Although both children are healthy, Buller admits she had difficulties with exercise and other issues during her first pregnancy. For her second pregnancy, however, she enrolled in physical training and opted to hire a personal trainer to improve her fitness.
During Ginni’s training sessions, her trainer concentrated on her spasticity and taught her exercises that would help reduce her cerebral palsy symptoms. The trainer also focused on how different exercises would affect her cerebral palsy while emphasizing underactive muscles and how to correct balance and flexibility. The results paid off, and Ginni’s second pregnancy and childbirth were successful.
According to a study published by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, two out of 38 pregnancies of women with cerebral palsy ended in miscarriage, while one pregnancy ended in stillbirth. The low numbers of miscarriage and stillbirth indicated that most “pregnancy outcomes were reassuringly normal.”
Cerebral Palsy and Giving Birth
Keep in mind that having cerebral palsy will not affect contractions or your cervix dilation. Yet, cerebral palsy symptoms, such as spasms, may worsen during childbirth. For this reason, epidurals normally aren’t recommended, but your obstetrician will make the final call.
Generally, epidurals aren’t given when women are having spasms. Discuss pain management with your healthcare provider beforehand, including alternative pain management methods.
In some cases, involuntary spasms can increase so much that normal delivery isn’t possible. In turn, a cesarean (C-section) might be necessary.
Postpartum Care for Mothers with Cerebral Palsy
All new mothers should receive adequate postpartum care. Women with disabilities are at a higher risk for complications, including postpartum depression, which might require additional care.
Basic Postpartum Care for All Women
For all women, postpartum care should include:
- Adequate rest and avoiding heavy lifting during recovery
- Pain management
- Medical evaluations and care as needed for bleeding, incontinence, and other issues
- Help with breastfeeding issues
- Good nutrition while recovering
- Slow transition to exercise and activity
- Avoidance of sexual activities for four to six weeks
- Mental health evaluation and care
Postpartum Issues for Women with Cerebral Palsy
Mothers with cerebral palsy might need additional postpartum care, depending on their specific CP symptoms and severity. You might need more time to recover. Also, if you have mobility issues, your pregnancy might have worsened them.
Once your baby is born, it’s always a good idea to have as much help as possible, especially if your CP symptoms worsen. Remember to let your doctor know if your symptoms become too overwhelming while trying to take care of a newborn. You’ll probably be physically exhausted after childbirth, so it’s important to try and rest as much as possible.
Rely on loved ones to help as you adjust to live as a mother. Let them help with chores, doctor’s appointments, and caring for the baby.
Talk to your doctors about adaptive devices that can help make caring for your baby easier. An occupational therapist is a great resource. They can help you with adaptations and assistive devices as you prepare your home and lifestyle for a new baby.
Cerebral Palsy and Postpartum Depression
Baby blues are normal after having a baby. Mild depression can be triggered by changing hormones, exhaustion, and big changes to your lifestyle.
Postpartum depression is different and more serious. Any new mother can develop this, but studies have shown that women with disabilities are more vulnerable to postpartum depression.
Talk to your partner and doctor if you begin to feel depressed. Symptoms of postpartum depression include:
- Severe depression
- Severe mood swings
- Excessive crying
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in sleep
- Withdrawing from loved ones
- Difficulty bonding with your baby
- Intense fatigue
- Feeling worthless, ashamed, or like a bad mother
- Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby
Men With Cerebral Palsy
Just as with women, men cannot pass down cerebral palsy to their children, as it’s not an inherited disorder. A man with cerebral palsy has the same chances of having a baby with cerebral palsy that a man without the disorder.
If you are not looking to conceive a child, it’s essential for both men and women with cerebral palsy to use contraception or take other measures to prevent pregnancy. Remember, cerebral palsy does not affect a person’s ability to have children. Other factors, such as infertility, can cause conception problems, but infertility is not a symptom or associated condition of cerebral palsy disorder.
- A Mom with spastic cerebral palsy welcomes another pregnancy! : NCHPAD - Building inclusive communities. (n.d.). National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD).
Retrieved from: https://www.nchpad.org/797/4179/A~Mom~with~Spastic~Cerebral~Palsy~Welcomes~Another~Pregnancy~
- Winch R , et al. (n.d.). Women with cerebral palsy: Obstetric experience and neonatal outcome. - PubMed - NCBI. National Center for Biotechnology Information.
Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8224564
- Lopez-Gonzalez, D.M. and Kapparapu, A.K. (2022, February 4). Postpartum Care Of The New Mother. StatePearls.
Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK565875/
- Booth, E.J., Kitsantas, P., Min, H., and Pollack, A. (2021, December 14). Stressful Life Events and Postpartum Depressive Symptoms Among Women with Disabilities. Women's Health. doi:10.1177/17455065211066186.
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