I can’t believe it’s been five months since I shared my pregnancy announcement with you! I also can’t believe that in just 10 more weeks I’ll finally get to see my little boy or girl’s face for the first time. I could cry just thinking about it. (Okay, maybe I am crying…it happens a lot these days!)
Things have gotten back to “normal” (if there is such a thing) since my blood transfusion last month. I’m walking 10,000 steps a day, practicing prenatal yoga, and juicing and blending daily. Other than the typical pregnancy discomforts and a few extra GP-related challenges, I’m doing well and my little one is strong, active, and healthy. What more could a mama-to-be ask for?
I’ve received a number of questions lately about GP and pregnancy in general and my experience in particular, so I thought I’d answer some of the most common ones in this post. (I’m also working on a brand new book for those who are pregnant, or want to become pregnant, and also happen to have gastroparesis. Look for Living (Well!) with Gastroparesis for Mamas-to-Be: Answers & Advice for Before, During & After Pregnancy later this year!)
Q: Have you been able to get adequate nutrition despite the gastroparesis?
A: Yes! It has taken a good amount of experimentation and effort, but I’m eating a more varied, nutrient-rich diet now than at any other time since I was diagnosed with GP. This is in large part due to all of the juicing and blending that I do. Combined with the supplements that I take, both my baby and I are well-nourished — certainly more so than the many “healthy” mamas-to-be who are hitting up the drive-thrus on a regular basis!
The exception here, of course, is the iron deficiency. I was anemic prior to pregnancy and had very, very low iron stores. Since I had not been taking an iron supplement due to colonic inertia (see below), even the spinach smoothies and weekly servings of lean organic ground beef weren’t enough to offset the increased need for iron. Since the blood transfusion, however, these dietary interventions seem to be helping to keep my blood count stable.
Q: Have you been able to gain weight? Was it difficult?
A: Oh, yes! I’ll probably end up with a total weight gain of around 40 pounds. Though I gained 10 pounds after having the gastric neurostimulator implanted in 2010 and was within the normal BMI range when I got pregnant, I was still a bit underweight for me. My body has done a fantastic job of taking on what it needs in order to nourish me and my baby throughout pregnancy. I’ve made very deliberate dietary and nutritional choices, but I haven’t had to try hard to gain weight.
(Please keep in mind that my dietary choices and improvements, would not be possible without the other aspects of my comprehensive management plan. I cannot emphasize this enough! It’s HUGE.)
Q: Does the gastric neurostimulator affect pregnancy? Did you have your device turned off when you got pregnant?
A: No, my stimulator has been on the entire time. Prior to getting pregnant, I talked with my motility specialist, the surgeon who implanted the device, the VP at Medtronic, and my OB/GYN. All agreed that the device could remain on during pregnancy. While no studies have been conducted, I was told that many women have now given birth with the device implanted and there haven’t been any reports of complications due to the device. Having the neurostimulator may have been why I experienced very little morning sickness!
As my belly has gotten bigger, I’ve had some discomfort around the site of the stimulator. The docs say it’s from the scar tissue stretching. It hasn’t been terribly painful, just annoying at times. The baby has also just started kicking the site of the device. Again, it doesn’t hurt, but it’s a little annoying.
Bottom line: having the device hasn’t really impacted my pregnancy. I’m planning a natural birth, but if a C-section were to become necessary, the stimulator would obviously be an additional consideration. C-sections are performed very low on the abdomen, however, much lower than where the device is placed.
Q: Have the gastroparesis symptoms gotten worse?
A: Prior to pregnancy, I was told that there was no way to predict whether my symptoms would get better, worse, or stay the same. Thankfully, they’ve improved! Not the early fullness or the delay in emptying, but the variety of food that I can tolerate has definitely increased. That doesn’t mean I’m eating pizza and salad, but I definitely have more leighway and flexibility.
Now in all honesty, I think this is partially due to pushing myself to step outside of my own comfort zone. Since being pregnant, I’ve tried things that I hadn’t tried in many years and I’ve found that I do just fine in small portions. A result of the pregnancy itself? I don’t know, but I plan to continue experimenting after the baby arrives to see!
I’ve talked with a number of other women who have gone through pregnancy with gastroparesis and most of them also noticed an improvement in their symptoms.
Q: Has the constipation gotten worse?
A: In addition to the GP, I also have motility issues in the colon and this is what most concerned my docs and my family when I was thinking about getting pregnant. We all knew that I’d most likely be able to manage the GP, even if it happened to get worse, with the comprehensive management plan and great team of docs that I have in place. The constipation was another story since I relied on high, frequent doses of stimulant laxatives and a prescription drug that couldn’t be taken during pregnancy.
Thankfully (though counter-intuitively, since many women without GI issues become constipated during pregnancy), the constipation has actually been easier to manage. I now need only 2-3 stimulant laxative tablets every 4 days. This is a significant improvement. Please keep in mind that stimulant laxatives are not typically recommended during pregnancy, but this is why it’s important to have a medical professional who looks at your situation individually and helps you to weigh the pros and cons, making the best decision possible.
Note: Colonic inertia is not the cause of constipation for most GPers. Please watch this video for more info about common causes and solutions.
This isn’t to say that there haven’t been challenges related to having GP while being pregnant. I have to be really, really diligent with my self-care and lifestyle, otherwise my symptoms flare quickly. The tenderness in the upper abdomen has increased as the baby has grown. The reflux has become a bigger issue. But just like everything else with GP (and life in general!) attitude and choices make all the difference.
I’m doing my best to make good choices, and I’ve never been as grateful for anything in my life as I am for this pregnancy. If you’d asked me 4 years ago, I’m not sure I would’ve thought it would even be possible. Yet here I am…10 weeks from welcoming my son or daughter into the world.