While pregnancy does not cause arthritis, a person can show signs of the condition during pregnancy. People with arthritis can carry a baby to term, but they should discuss their case with a doctor.

Pregnancy can cause joint aches and pains. However, these are generally related to the loosening of the joints to prepare for delivery as well as changes in gait, posture, and weight gain.

In rare cases, a person may show signs of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) for the first time during pregnancy.

This article reviews pregnancy and arthritis, planning for pregnancy, symptoms, medications, and more.

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The most common form of arthritis is osteoarthritis (OA). It often develops in people over the age of 50 years. However, several kinds can affect people before menopause.

For example, RA primarily affects females and most often begins between the ages of 30–50 years.

Additionally, it is possible, but rare, for a person to display signs of RA for the first time during pregnancy.

Arthritis generally does not prevent a person from becoming pregnant, though some forms may add additional considerations for a person. However, medications used to treat arthritis may cause issues for the developing fetus.

People with arthritis should discuss their plans to become pregnant with a doctor to best plan for pregnancy and adjust treatments as needed.

RA may, in some cases, make conception more difficult. The severity of the disease can also influence the successful outcome of the pregnancy.

During pregnancy, a person may need to continue their treatment regimen if their condition is under control, though their doctor may tweak their medications. Symptoms may also improve during pregnancy.

Pain or physical abnormalities in the hips or lower back may affect vaginal delivery, but otherwise, most people should be able to give a vaginal birth.

Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) is not likely to affect a person’s ability to become pregnant.

Still, a person should discuss their plans to become pregnant with a doctor before conception because they may recommend altering medications during pregnancy.

PsA symptoms will often stabilize or potentially improve during pregnancy.

A person should be able to have a vaginal delivery, however, pain or stiffness in the lower back or hips may mean a person should opt for a cesarean delivery.

Planning for pregnancy can involve additional questions that a person may want to ask their doctor.

They may want to know:

  • How might having arthritis affect a baby?
  • Will the condition pass down to a baby?
  • What medications are safe to take during pregnancy?

Before conception, a person should talk with a doctor about their plans. An early discussion gives a doctor time to assess their condition, make suggestions for changes, and provide recommendations for when to stop or change medications.

Doctors generally recommend waiting for the disease to be under control for at least 3–6 months before conception. This may help improve the outcome of the pregnancy.

A doctor may recommend continuing with current medications, however, certain types may not be safe before or during pregnancy. For example, a person will likely need to stop taking methotrexate about 3 months before conception.

A person should review their current medications with a doctor so they can make recommendations for changes as needed.

While it is possible to pass an autoimmune disorder, like PsA or RA, down to a child, many people with these conditions have healthy babies who do not develop the condition.

A person should discuss their case with a doctor to help determine the risk of passing down their specific condition to a baby.

Pregnancy can cause aches and pains in the joints regardless of whether the person has arthritis or not.

While arthritis can develop for the first time during pregnancy, it is rare for conditions like RA to develop for the first time during pregnancy.

Pregnancy can affect arthritis differently for different people. Autoimmune disorders, like rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis, may worsen, stabilize, or improve during pregnancy.

A person may notice a flare within a few weeks of delivery. For example, about 50% of people will experience a flare of rheumatoid arthritis following delivery.

Careful management and a return to stopped medications may help prevent a flare.

For some, arthritis symptoms will improve during pregnancy. For others, they may stay the same or worsen.

Early symptoms of RA include:

  • joint pain and stiffness that lasts longer than 6 weeks
  • morning stiffness that lasts more than 30 minutes

Pain and discomfort may continue throughout pregnancy and may worsen due to changes in weight and posture, putting additional strain on the affected joints.

Some may experience additional fatigue related to their arthritis.

Learn more

Learn more about arthritis symptoms.

A person should discuss their medications with their doctor.

Some medications are safe to continue throughout pregnancy, while others — including some over-the-counter (OTC) medications — can pose a risk to the developing fetus.

A person may need to stop some medications months before a pregnancy.

A person with arthritis may be able to find some relief with non-medication alternatives.

However, in some cases, a person should review home management options to make sure they will not have a negative impact on the developing fetus.

Pain relief

Hot and cold therapy may still be a good option for some people. This can involve placing heating pads or cold packs on affected joints.

Gentle massages may also help to alleviate pain and discomfort.

While acetaminophen may be safe for pregnancy, a person should avoid nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) during pregnancy due to a risk of congenital abnormalities.

Diet and exercise

A person should discuss dietary and exercise changes with a doctor before making any major changes.

A person should continue exercising the way they were before conception, but should not start anything new without first talking with a doctor. This includes both resistance and cardio exercises.

A person should continue trying to eat a healthy diet during pregnancy. A doctor may recommend taking prenatal vitamins to help ensure both the person and fetus get the necessary nutrients.

Non-medical remedies

There are several ways a person can help manage their pain and other symptoms, including:

  • practicing relaxation techniques
  • resting the joints
  • getting enough sleep
  • focusing on good posture

Arthritis can negatively impact a developing fetus.

For example, people with rheumatoid arthritis who have high disease activity have a higher risk of:

  • preterm birth
  • low birth rate
  • need for a cesarean delivery

A person should discuss their potential risks with a doctor to determine the best plan to minimize their risks during pregnancy.

Arthritis may affect labor and delivery.

If a person has a physical abnormality or pain in the hips or lower back, vaginal delivery may be more difficult. A doctor may recommend a cesarean delivery.

A person should discuss delivery options with a doctor to determine the best birthing plan for them.

A person should make post-delivery plans with a doctor before their due date. They may be able to resume previously stopped medication but should confirm this with a doctor if they plan on nursing the baby.

A person should consider how they plan to care for their baby. This may involve asking others for help. They should also consider the risk of postpartum flares.

Post-partum flares

Certain forms of arthritis can flare following delivery.

About 50% of people with rheumatoid arthritis will have a flare in symptoms following pregnancy. Careful management can help prevent and treat a flare when and if it occurs.

Caring for a baby

Caring for a baby following delivery can be more challenging. Arthritis may make picking up the baby and tending to their needs more difficult.

Arthritis itself should not affect a person’s ability to chestfeed or breastfeed. People should discuss what medications they can safely take in these situations.

If possible, planning for family members, friends, or paid support to help with the baby can be helpful.

Remission

While a person may experience remission in symptoms during pregnancy, many will experience a flare following delivery.

A person should discuss going back on their previous regimen of medication with their doctor to help ensure they continue to remain in remission and let their doctor know if their symptoms do worsen.

A person can typically become pregnant and safely carry a baby to term when they are living with arthritis. Arthritis adds an extra consideration for a person and doctors.

For some conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis, the severity of the disease can affect the pregnancy. Other conditions may also cause issues with the fetus, such as lupus, if they are not under control.

For some, symptoms may improve, though they may then flare following delivery.

A person is not likely to pass their condition down to their child, though it is possible. A person should discuss their specific case and risks with a doctor.

People with arthritis may benefit from support to help them navigate pregnancy and new parenthood.

Some organizations that can provide information and support to people with arthritis include:

The following sections answer some frequently asked questions about pregnancy and arthritis.

Can pregnancy cause arthritis?

Pregnancy can cause joint aches and pains. However, these are generally related to the loosening of the joints to prepare for delivery as well as changes in gait, posture, and weight gain.

In rare cases, a person may show signs of a condition for the first time during pregnancy, like rheumatoid arthritis.

Why do my hands hurt so bad during pregnancy?

Changes occurring in the body can cause the hands and wrists to hurt.

Hormones, weight gain, and fluid retention during the third trimester are the most common culprits of this pain.

What causes arthritis in fingers during pregnancy?

Changes in weight, fluid retention, and hormones can cause the joints in the hands and wrists to ache.

Unless arthritis symptoms occurred in the fingers before pregnancy, these changes are the most likely causes and do not relate directly to arthritis.

However, people with pre-existing RA or PsA may find that their symptoms worsen during pregnancy.

A person with arthritis can become pregnant and carry a healthy baby to term. However, they should take steps to plan for the pregnancy with a doctor in advance of conception.

Arthritis itself is often not the issue, but medications can be. A person should discuss their current medications and work with a doctor to make the necessary changes.

A person may notice their symptoms improve some during pregnancy, but they should also be aware that they may have a flare following delivery.

Careful management can help prevent flares and help ensure the pregnancy goes smoothly.