Balancing Fibromyalgia and Parenthood
Being a parent is a tough gig; balancing self-care, parenthood, relationships, healthy living… and finding the energy to keep up with it all is a challenge in itself. But being a Fibromyte parent (a mum or dad who lives with Fibromyalgia) can add a whole new level of complexity to your life as a parent.
What Exactly is Fibromyalgia?
For those who are unaware, Fibromyalgia (FMS) is a chronic syndrome that primarily causes physical pain and fatigue. People with FMS often feel like they are aching all over; muscles feel sore, stiff, and overworked. Sometimes muscles can even feel like they are burning.
Although increased sensitivity to pain is the main symptom of FMS, often symptoms of other associated conditions can present as well. These can range from sleep disorders, chronic headaches, fatigue and cognitive or memory impairment often referred to as ‘Fibrofog’, just to name a few.
There is a strong belief in current FMS research that the symptoms generated by the syndrome are generated by signals in the brain, that is, the brain tells parts of the body that it is in pain and the body responds by tensing muscles in that area, further worsening the pain being felt. These false brain signals can also account for other common symptoms of FMS.
Every person’s experience with FMS is different; the range and severity of symptoms, the coping mechanisms that help to manage these and the causes of ‘flair-ups’.
Who Can Get Fibromyalgia?
Research suggests that FMS has a genetic component, whereby usually non-direct relatives (i.e. aunt-niece, half sisters, etc.) carry the predispositional markers within their genes. Whilst majority of people with FMS are women, men can also develop the syndrome.
It is theorised by researchers that FMS remains dormant within your genes until triggered by a significant physical trauma or illness, such a back injury, broken leg or bout of severe pneumonia.
Fibromyalgia During Pregnancy
The effects of FMS pain during pregnancy is inconclusive. One study found that pregnant women with FMS reported increased stiffness, pain and tiredness levels than pregnant women without FMS.
On the other hand, some doctors argue that certain FMS symptoms disappear during pregnancy due to changes in a woman’s hormones. In addition, women with FMS may already be familiar with the aches and pains they will experience in pregnancy because of the familiarity of pain from FMS.
Breastfeeding with Fibromyalgia
Numerous studies have been done evaluating how FMS influences breastfeeding, which all indicate that it can be very hard to breastfeed with FMS. This is not to say that it’s not possible to breastfeed with this condition.
Breastfeeding is primarily difficult for mums with FMS due to both the physical pain experienced and the stress of becoming a mum. Since stress can cause your FMS to flair, and can your keep milk from letting down, it is very important to create a stress-free environment when you plan to feed:
- – approach your breastfeeding with a positive attitude
- – use pillows to support your head and your body while you feed
- – find a sling or pillow that you can use to prop baby up so that you aren’t supporting his/her weight
- – try nurse while lying down on a bed with your baby facing you
- – create a quiet, relaxing location for feeding
- – turn on soothing music and/or use aromatherapy oils as you are about to feed
Ways of Coping with Fibromyalgia as a Parent
Here are a number of suggestions that will hopefully help Fibromyte parents balance FMS with parenthood responsibilities:
Create an Energy Chart
The biggest challenge of being a parent and living with FMS is that at times it can be difficult to find the energy to handle both. It may be helpful to regularly inform your family of how you feel so that they don’t expect too much or too little from you on any particular day.
One great idea is to create an energy chart that you can print and laminate and place on the fridge. It will serve as a daily barometer to indicate to the rest of your family how you are doing. Of course, this chart won’t work with very little children, but you’d be amazed how much a three or four year old can begin to understand.
This is a brilliant way to keep everyone in the house in the loop and informed about how you are feeling, and what you think you are capable of on any given day. If you’re feeling more energised today, let them know and maybe as a family you can do something fun. If you’re feeling a lot of pain today, lay down on the couch.
Spend Time With the Kids
Take advantage of your good days and take your children out, only doing errands and chores that are essential.
If your child is going crazy and needs to get out when you aren’t feeling well, either go to the park where he will be occupied without your help, or ask someone else to take him. On the other hand, you may need to have alternative things to do, such as giving them an art project, a toy or a game of some kind.
There’s nothing wrong in pushing things off when you feel bad, but remember not to make any promises that you can’t keep to your kids.
Live Without Multi-Tasking
Everyone today seems to multi-task much of the time, especially parents. One thing that might be important to learn as a parent with FMS is that you don’t need to multi-task! Yes, things will get done more slowly and your life won’t be as efficient or organised, but you may find yourself feeling more sane and more able to cope with your many responsibilities. Most importantly, you’ll become significantly less stressed out if you take things one step at a time, thereby avoiding potential FMS symptom flair-ups.
Pick one task at a time that needs to get done and make that your target for the day. Take breaks as necessary, and try to get this one task done.
Give your children chores in the house as well, if they are old enough, and help them to understand that housework and responsibilities can be a group effort. This is a great way to teach them about responsibility and helping others.
Certain self-care suggestions mentioned in our other articles are just as important, if not moreso, for parents with FMS.
Firstly, people with FMS often find it difficult to get enough exercise due to the pain, but exercising is still a great way to energise your body and get your muscles to heal themselves. You don’t need to put a lot of time into exercising each day – 20-30 minutes per day will drastically improve your strength.
Secondly, fatigue is a common symptom of FMS, so getting the sleep at night that you need can be tough. Nonetheless, being rested will reduce your chances of developing stress, and thus allow you to cope with your FMS better while raising your children. Another way to get plenty of rest is to schedule some time each day to your personal hobbies, such as listening to music or reading a book.
Right now, all you may be focusing on is raising your kids, getting them fed properly, and work at your job. There’s nothing wrong with that, but trying to get as much stress out as possible can significantly increase your ability to cope as a Fibromyte Parent.