Most women don’t think it’s possible to undergo cancer treatment while pregnant. They believe they need to either delay treatment until after the baby’s birth, or deliver prematurely in order to start treatment sooner.
The truth is that chemotherapy does not cause harm to a developing baby, and is considered to be one of the safest cancer treatment methods available during pregnancy. But that doesn’t mean it will be without side effects.
Here’s how to handle the side effects of chemotherapy while pregnant.
Talk To Your Doctor
Before starting chemo, ask your doctor what you can expect in terms of side effects. Different medications do different things, so just because your friend had one experience doesn’t mean you’ll have the same. Knowing what you may experience will take some of the fear out of chemo, and help you better prepare for the process.
Suck on Preggie Pops
Nausea is one of the biggest side effects of chemotherapy – and if you struggle at all with pregnancy nausea, you’re in for a double whammy. Thankfully, most chemotherapy doesn’t begin until after the first trimester, when nausea is typically at its worst. Deal with your chemo-induced nausea the same way you dealt with pregnancy nausea: using preggie pops, eating small meals, and avoiding foods with strong scents or flavors.
Bring Some Mints
Many cancer patients say that the flushes at the end of each treatment session are worse than the chemotherapy drugs themselves, leaving a bad taste in your mouth that is not only unpleasant, but can make nausea worse. Bring mints – which are usually palatable – to help rid your mouth of the taste.
Ask About Nausea Medications
If you can’t keep anything down or your nausea is severe enough that it is interfering with your everyday life, speak with your doctor about anti-nausea medication. In fact, up until very recently the medications prescribed for pregnancy nausea were originally developed for chemotherapy patients. Turns out, they’re effective for both uses.
Drink Lots of Water
It’s important to drink enough water when you’re pregnant, and that need is even greater if you’re enduring chemotherapy. Drink as much water as you can to keep well-hydrated and to make sure that your body is able to function properly. It’s easy for chemotherapy patients to become dehydrated due to vomiting or diarrhea, and dehydration can actually send you into premature labor.
Get Plenty of Rest
Your body is both fighting cancer and growing a baby. It needs rest. Don’t try to do it all, or “power through” to get everything done. Listen to your body and let other things slide. Right now, the health of both you and your baby are your priorities.
Don’t Forget to Eat
Between the nausea and the change in your taste buds, you may find it difficult to eat regularly. You need to eat regularly for your strength, and to nourish your baby. Keep a good supply of bland foods that you can stomach, and make sure you eat several times a day. Keeping food in your belly will actually help with nausea, as an empty stomach can actually exacerbate the sensation. In fact, it’s a good idea to eat a small meal before each chemotherapy session.
Give Yourself Grace
Give yourself grace regarding all the things that are likely to go undone during this season. You may not have the energy to put together a nursery, or your family may not have as many home-cooked meals as you’re accustomed to serving them. Though these things may feel incredibly important to you, in the grand scheme of things they are not. The most important thing is that you’re taking care of yourself and your baby.
Ask for Help
Don’t try to do everything yourself. Ask for help when you need it – whether that means leaning harder on your husband, your in-laws, or your friends. See if people can take your kids for a few hours so you can nap. Take others up on the offer if they ask to bring you dinner. And don’t wait until you’re at your wit’s end before you allow others to step in and help you; be preemptive and ask before you become desperate.
Hang In There Mama
It’s understandable to be scared when you learn you have cancer, and even more so if you’re pregnant at the same time. But be encouraged that chemotherapy is a safe cancer treatment method during pregnancy; you just need to make sure you’re taking extra-good care of yourself during the process. Eat small, regular meals, drink plenty of water, get lots of rest, and suck on mints or pregnancy pops to battle the nausea. This season will be hard, but when it’s over and you’re healthy – with your baby in your arms – it will all be worth it.
About the Author
Jenny Silverstone is the main mama behind Mom Loves Best, a research-driven parenting blog that covers topics such as staying healthy during pregnancy, overcoming birthing challenges, and learning to become a more well-rounded and grounded parent.