Pregnancy

Pregnancy and parenthood for people with cerebral palsy or physical impairments

If you or your partner is disabled and you want to start a family, you may have concerns about how pregnancy will affect you physically or about practical things like feeding, lifting, changing nappies and so on. 

We’d recommend chatting with your doctor about any concerns you may have. Ask what support is available in your area during pregnancy and when you bring your baby home.

It’s important that all professionals involved in your care during pregnancy and birth understand how your condition affects you. If you take medication, you may need to adapt this, as it may affect you and your baby during pregnancy or if you wish to breastfeed.

Most disabled parents find ways to address any practical issues with the support of their midwife, health visitor and other professionals.

Before pregnancy

  • Getting fit before you get pregnant is especially important if you are disabled.
  • It’s also a good idea for both partners to stop smoking and drinking alcohol before trying for a baby -  these can affect fertility in both men and women.
  • Having a baby may change your lifestyle considerably. It’s wise for any couple considering raising a child to talk in advance about their expectations and worries. It’s important to agree how you will care for your child and share tasks.

No two women have the same experience of pregnancy. If you’re disabled, you may find some things more difficult: “My spasms and ability to stand got worse (temporarily) and I had badly swollen feet.” Disabled mum

You may also experience unexpected benefits:

“I found that my spasms got much less and I didn’t seem to need as much physiotherapy as I normally would.” Disabled mum

During pregnancy

  • You may experience morning sickness (which can happen all day!) in the early months of pregnancy.
  • Tiredness, constipation and urinary tract infections are also common. Ask for help if you finding it hard to carry out your usual activities.  
  • Good eating habits are important, as gaining weight may cause extra mobility problems.
  • Exercise during pregnancy is also important, especially if you use a wheelchair. Exercise will improve circulation and help you prepare for the delivery. It can also help with spasms, reduce constipation and increase strength and flexibility.
  • An obstetric physiotherapist may be able to recommend suitable exercises. If you use a wheelchair, take extra care to avoid pressure sores.

As well as physical changes, you may experience emotional changes from fluctuating hormones. Restricted activity and movement during pregnancy can be frustrating. It may help to talk to other people about your feelings:

“People didn’t know how to react to the news, some assuming it wasn’t planned and that upset me.” Disabled mum

Becoming pregnant as a disabled person can arouse varied reactions. Be prepared for some negative as well as positive reactions.

Ante-natal care and classes

  • Ante-natal appointments monitor you and the baby throughout your pregnancy, so it’s important to attend if you can. They also prepare you for the birth, let you meet other parents and teach relaxation and breathing.
  • Involve your partner, or the person supporting you, as much as possible in ante-natal planning and classes. You may attend clinics at your GP's surgery or in hospital. Your midwife should be able to visit you at home if this is easier for you.
  • During pregnancy, you will need to go to hospital for tests and scans. Your impairment may affect how these tests are done. Discuss your needs with the hospital and your midwife before appointments.

“Because I found it difficult to get onto the high examination beds at the doctor’s, I asked if they had a height-adjustable one that could be lowered for me. They did, and whenever I made an appointment, that room was kept free for me!” Disabled mum

Preparing for the birth

Before the birth, consider how your impairment may affect how you care for your child. Look at what support is available to you, decide what extra help you may need and arrange this in good time. If you have a partner, decide the childcare roles and responsibilities you and your partner will have. These should be realistic, flexible and open to negotiation.

Delivery

  • Discuss where you want to give birth with your midwife or obstetrician. An advantage of hospital delivery is that equipment and expertise is nearby if problems arise. If you have a choice of hospital, try to choose one that has an obstetrician experience working with disabled mums.
  • Your obstetrician will discuss with you and your partner your wishes around vaginal birth or elective caesarean section. You might want to have an elective caesarean if you have involuntary spasms which may interfere with delivery, pelvic impairments or if the baby is in the breech position. You may also have a caesarean if there are signs that the baby is in distress during labour.
  • Before a vaginal delivery, try out some delivery positions. Side-lying or reclining positions may be an option. Epidurals are not generally advised for women who have severe and uncontrollable spasms. You should also discuss methods of pain reduction before the delivery.

Looking after your baby

If you have difficulty holding your baby, you’ll need to find a comfortable position for feeding. Think about how you will change and dress your baby. Easy-care clothes with Velcro fastenings can save time and effort.

Caring for a baby is daunting for any new parents. Most new mothers worry about being able to cope and need some sort of help, so ask if you need it. Your health visitor is there to support you with all parts of parenthood and childcare. Social workers may be able to arrange practical support or help with specialised equipment for you or your baby.

Useful resources for disabled parents

Disability Pregnancy and Parenthood International (DPPI)

DPPI is a national charity specialising in information and advice for disabled parents and professionals.

Read pregnancy tips from our online community of disabled people.

Contact our helpline