Manage multiple sclerosis after pregnancy by following this diet

When MS sufferer Sharon Ní Chonchúir gave birth to her son in December she dropped her strict diet. She soon found the familiar symptoms returning.

MUM'S THE WORD: Sharon Ni Chonchuir and her Milo at their home in Dingle, Co Kerry. Picture: Domnick Walsh

WHEN I wrote about my pregnancy in October, I was 30 weeks pregnant and excited about the birth of my first baby.

I was anxious too. Would the labour be terrible? Would the baby be healthy? What would I do once I got the baby home? Would I be able to look after the newborn or would the task prove to be more than I could manage?

I’m sure all first-time mothers have these worries but my situation is complicated by the fact that I have MS (multiple sclerosis). Despite the fact that pregnancy isn’t considered a risk factor for women with MS, it added to my anxieties.

Studies show that MS symptoms usually abate during pregnancy but they also show that the months afterwards, when mothers are physically exhausted, are the time of real risk. 

According to Dr Helena Moore, a consultant neurologist with clinics in University Hospital Kerry and the Bon Secours Hospital in Tralee, new mothers and the doctors caring for them need to be vigilant during that time.

“The year in which a woman is pregnant has the same risk factor as any other year,” she says. 

“However, the problem is that the nine months of pregnancy are protective which means that the three months following the birth are higher risk than normal. 

"If my patients are planning pregnancies, we work together to actively manage their condition during pregnancy and especially after the baby is born.”

In my previous article, I explained that I manage my MS by following the Overcoming MS programme. This combines a diet that is low in saturated fat with vitamin D supplementation, exercise and stress management.

I have followed this programme since 2013 and I stuck to it rigidly right up to the moment my baby boy — Milo — was born weighing 8lbs 7ozs on Thursday, December 8.

Until then, I’d been a textbook case of pregnancy being protective for MS as I had felt as healthy as I’d ever felt for the entire time. However, Milo’s arrival into the world didn’t go exactly as planned.

At the 32-week scan, I was told that he was in breech position but not to worry as 97% of babies turned before coming to full term. Uh oh, I thought to myself, knowing my luck, my baby will be among the 3% that don’t.

And so it proved to be. Despite trying everything I could think of to get him to turn, Milo had to be delivered by C-section, which meant that I left hospital feeling weak and sore.

I have a very hazy memory of those first weeks at home. It’s a blur of breastfeeding, endless nappies and snatched moments of sleep.

Milo was born in the dark months of winter and I spent most of my time sitting and snuggling by the fire with him. 

It felt as if we were in a cocoon and all of the worries of the world were far away. All that mattered was us and getting to know each other.

I would describe it as a blissful time were it not for the exhaustion. My body ached with tiredness and there were times when I felt it come right up against its limits.

When Milo was a few weeks old, he developed colic and would cry non-stop for three hours every night before bed. We tried everything but nothing alleviated the pain.

Imagine being sleep-deprived for weeks on end and then having to deal with a crying baby. Imagine that the baby is screaming in pain and its only response to anything you do is to scream even louder. I’ve never felt despair like the despair I felt in those moments. 

It was only after the colic had run its natural course (when Milo was almost four months old) that I began to realise that I hadn’t been following the OMS programme as strictly as I should have been.

Because I try to minimise my intake of saturated fats, I usually avoid processed foods and prepare everything from scratch. This hadn’t been difficult before Milo arrived. But as any new mum will tell you, a baby changes everything. It is hard to find time to take a shower, let alone cook a meal.

I had taken some precautions before Milo was born by cooking double portions of meals and freezing them. When these ran out, I was in trouble.

This trouble was amplified because some people didn’t know about my diet and brought biscuits and chocolates into the house. When I was tired and hungry, I lost all resolve to resist them and broke my diet more and more often.

I had been doing this for a few months when I started to notice the effects. I felt that old tingling feeling down my right side and I had occasional twinges of pain in my arm and shoulder.

I had to do something about it. After all, my health was no longer simply my concern. Milo needed me and he needed me to be healthy.

So I recommitted to the OMS programme and now, even though I’m still tired, my symptoms seem to be under control once more.

And not only do I feel well, I feel happy. I’m making the most of my time with my beautiful little boy. 

He’s begun to notice and marvel at the world around him and I take such pleasure in sharing that with him. He’s quick to laugh and there’s no sound I love more than his gurgles and giggles.

Dr Moore urges her female MS patients to have children if that’s what they’ve always wanted. 

“MS is a condition you have but you should also continue to live your life... The vast majority of my patients have babies and their MS remains stable. It’s something we work out together and I make sure they make balanced, well-informed decisions along the way.”

There was a time when I thought that MS might prevent me from having children. I am so thankful this didn’t turn out to be the case. I am so thankful to have Milo.


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