Throughout the last 9 months of my pregnancy, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to note that many of the gadgets and approaches that are recommended for arthritis can also be helpful for pregnant women. Conveniently, many of the strategies and gadgets recommended for pregnant women can also help persons with arthritis! I’d like to share some of my favorite items and approaches so that others with arthritis or pregnancy can discover how to protect their bodies and perhaps be more comfortable.
Arthritis Gadgets and Approaches that also Help During Pregnancy
1) The Reacher / Grabber
The reacher/grabber is a classic gadget that helps you avoid bending down to pick up items. As a bonus, reachers can also help you reach high up items (which I personally have found helpful when picking blackberries – the good ones are always just out of arm’s reach!).
There are 2 basic kinds of reachers: the lightweight variety, which are very easy to operate if you have hand pain but only work for light items, and heavy duty ones which can pick up items up to 8 pounds.
I have found that reachers are a great creative baby shower present for the expecting mom. Their usefulness will likely persist post-delivery, as it can be difficult to bend down if you are still healing (particularly from a Cesarean birth).
2) Clothing Aides
Putting on and taking off clothes can be difficult with arthritis as well as pregnancy, especially in the second to third trimesters as the belly grows and bending down becomes harder! The sock aide and shoe horn (links below) are useful for lower body dressing as they minimize the extent to which you have to bend down to put on socks and shoes. The button hook is super helpful if you’re having hand swelling and/or carpal tunnel syndrome, which are common during pregnancy.
3) Supportive Shoes that are Easy to put on
Painful swelling of the feet is a common phenomenon during pregnancy, and those with arthritis know all too well the importance of comfortable and supportive shoes! Many people with arthritis as well as those who are pregnant find that easy to put on shoes (such as slip ons) are super helpful, as they prevent you from having to bend down and allow you to avoid potential hand pain from finagling with laces/snaps/etc.
My favorite shoes for arthritis and pregnancy have hit the sweet spot of “support + ease of putting on and off.” Most of the shoes I recommended in my previous post on this topic work well for both arthritis and pregnancy. For pregnant women, I would recommend adding a zipper pull to boot zippers to minimize the bending needed to reach them. Alternately, I recommend sitting down and crossing one foot over the other knee in order to more easily put on boots or shoes that might be supportive but difficult to put on and off.
4) Fatigue Management and Energy Conservation
Since fatigue is also a part of many of the autoimmune-caused arthritic diseases , persons with arthritis often learn coping strategies for fatigue such as getting adequate rest, pacing oneself and asking for help. Fatigue is also a common phenomenon during pregnancy, particularly in the first and third trimesters, so many of the same strategies that work for autoimmune-caused arthritis also apply to pregnant women.
I have learned to manage and prevent fatigue by implementing “energy conservation” strategies. Energy conservation most simply means looking at ways to organize your environment or tasks so that you need to expend less energy to achieve the same goals. Occupational therapists tend to have great recommendations for energy conservation, and I would also recommend this great list of strategies from Arthritis Self Management.
A few energy conservation techniques I’ve implemented since becoming pregnant include:
Reorganizing my kitchen so that frequently used items (such as cat food) are at arm’s level rather than super high up or low down (see photo). I also put frequently used items at arm’s level within my refrigerator and freezer.
- Putting frequently used items on my bathroom counter rather than storing them under the sink to prevent excessive bending down (which helps with back as well as knee pain)
- Purchasing items via Amazon.com rather than going to the store, which minimizes the amount of lifting and carrying required
- Have your groceries divided into more bags to minimize the weight of any one individual bag
- Using adaptive equipment (such as the reacher mentioned above)
- Asking for help (more on that below!)
- Planning ahead so that I minimize the amount of trips required to perform a task
- Listening to my body and taking frequent rest breaks when needed!
Pregnancy Gadgets and Approaches that Also Help with Arthritis
1) Clothing that is Loose, Comfortable and Easy to put on and off
The maternity industry has absolutely nailed this one! I have really enjoyed my elastic or panel waisted pants during pregnancy; not only are they more comfortable than standard pants, they are much easier to put on and off due to the lack of zippers, buttons and other tricky closures!
I see no reason why regular folks with arthritis wouldn’t benefit from/enjoy wearing the kinds of elastic waist pants that are designed for early pregnancy (the “full panel” ones designed for later pregnancy only really work for the shape of your body at that point). The terms to search for would be “low rise maternity pants,” or “demi-panel” pants. I personally have enjoyed my Old Navy demi-panel pants as well as their fold over lounge pants.
I will say that the brands vary in terms of how much force is required to pull the pants up over the hips; I would recommend getting a panel with a little more “give” so that you don’t have to excessively grip the panel in order to pull it up, as this can cause additional strain to the hand joints.
Additionally, I’ve found that many maternity tops are super soft, loose, comfortable, and easy to put on and off. These are also great criteria to value while shopping for arthritis-friendly tops, as the easier your clothes are to put on and off, the less strain you’ll be putting on your precious joints!
2) Pillows and “Positioning Aides” for Comfort while SleepingSleep is so crucial for maintaining overall health during pregnancy as well as while managing arthritis. I was super excited to learn about all the different pregnancy pillows and other “positioning aides” on the market. While I personally have been able to sleep relatively comfortably by arranging my existing pillows on my bed, many pregnant women find that the special pillows designed for pregnancy are a great investment that substantially improves their ability to sleep comfortably.
Many folks with arthritis would also benefit from these larger, full body pillows as they provide additional support that minimizes the strain on your joints. For example, the pillow pictured at top right supports the woman’s left shoulder and hip much more so than if she was sleeping on a standard pillow. This article offers additional tips for sleeping positions that help with a variety of physical ailments. If the comfort isn’t motivation enough, just consider that you spend roughly 1/3 of your life sleeping, so anything you to do protect your joints during sleep will potentially have a huge effect on your joints!
3) Asking for Help
This is a biggie. I have found it so much easier to ask for help during my pregnancy than I previously had on the basis of arthritis. At some point, pregnancy becomes such an obvious, public phenomenon that people will offer help before you even have a chance to ask. It’s also been easier for me to ask for help while pregnant because I see it not only as for myself, but also for the baby.
I’m not proud to admit it, but I definitely have had my impatient moments in the past where I knew I should ask for help (for example, with heavy groceries) but didn’t because I wanted to just get the task done quickly. The added incentive to protect the child in addition to my own joints has made it much easier for me to ask for help during pregnancy, and I really hope that I can remain in the habit of asking for help post-partum. As an occupational therapist, I know how important it is to protect my joints, but as anyone who’s worked in health promotion knows, there is often a gap between knowing what’s right/what to do and remembering to consistently enact that in the moment!
The gadgets and approaches listed above were the most salient to me during my pregnancy, but I’m sure I’ve only skimmed the surface of the overlap between helpful strategies for arthritis and pregnancy. I’d love to hear additional ideas from others in the comments section!