Coping with cancer during pregnancy

Being diagnosed with cancer during pregnancy can bring some difficult and complicated emotions. Getting the support you need is important for you and your baby.

Your feelings

It is common to have many different feelings when you are diagnosed with cancer. If you are pregnant at the same time, your feelings can be even more complex. You will also be coping with the emotional changes of pregnancy.

You may feel:

  • shocked or numb and even find it hard to accept that cancer and pregnancy can happen together
  • angry or resentful that your normal healthy pregnancy has been taken from you
  • a sense of loss because your experience of pregnancy is not what you imagined
  • as if you are somehow to blame, even though there is nothing to feel guilty about.

You may feel anxious about your own health and the baby’s. Understanding more about treatment and how the risks to your health and the baby’s health are managed, may help you feel more in control.

Some women may worry they will not bond enough with the baby because their time and energy is taken up by treatment. Even women who do not have an illness to cope with can find it hard to bond with an unborn baby. It does not mean you will not feel a strong connection with your baby when it is born. There are ways you can still focus on your pregnancy.

The most important thing you can do for the baby is to look after your own health. Focus on taking care of yourself and being kind to yourself. How you feel affects your well-being and how you manage things.

Getting help and support

Getting the support you need is important for you and your baby. Talking things over with others may help you to feel less anxious. This may also help you think more clearly and make decisions.

Partner, family and friends

Talk openly with a partner, family members or close friends about how you feel so they can support you. You may want a partner, or someone close to you, to be with you at appointments. They can help you to understand what is said and support you in making any decisions about your pregnancy and treatment.

Try to tell people what you need from them. They may not know what to do or say. It could be that you need someone to listen to you or just to be with you. Or it could be something practical, or something to help distract you.

Your partner or close family members and friends will have their own feelings to cope with. There is also support available for them.

If you have other children, you might worry about their feelings and reactions. Some people find it helpful to speak to their specialist nurse, a social worker or counsellor for advice and support.

Your healthcare team

Be honest with your doctor, nurse and other healthcare professionals about your feelings and worries. They can support you and often reassure you. If you need more specialised help, they can usually arrange this.

A counsellor or psychologist can help you find ways of coping with your feelings. Getting support early on may help you cope with different challenges after the baby is born.

Mummy’s Star

Mummy’s Star is the only charity in the UK and Ireland that offers support to women who are diagnosed with cancer in or around pregnancy. They can help you meet or talk to other women who have been in a similar situation. Mummy’s Star also provides advocacy support, financial help and education to raise awareness of cancer and pregnancy.

Support groups

Your nurse can tell you about local cancer support centres and support groups. There are also different organisations that can offer support, depending on the type of cancer you have.

Macmillan’s Online Community is a good place to meet people who may be in a similar situation.

Taking care of yourself

Taking good care of yourself helps you cope with treatment and prepares you for when the baby is born.

You will be experiencing the physical and hormonal effects of pregnancy. These can include mood changes or problems sleeping. Your midwife can give you advice and support on how to care for yourself during pregnancy. They will explain the checks you and the baby will have.

You may have treatment side effects to cope with. You might also have symptoms caused by the cancer. Your specialist doctor and nurse will explain how to manage your symptoms. They can prescribe medicines to help and give you advice on what you can do. We have more information on supportive treatments.

Managing tiredness

Cancer treatments can make you tired. Pregnancy also makes you tired and you may have other children to care for.

You will need plenty of rest. Think about how family and friends could help. If you have a partner, talk about the best ways to manage things.

Accept offers of help from others or ask for help. This will allow you more time and energy to do the things you want to do. If you have children it means you can spend more time with them.

You could ask for help with:

  • getting to and from hospital
  • looking after children
  • taking children to and from school or activities
  • shopping and preparing meals
  • household tasks.

Keeping a diary can help identify the support you need and when you are likely to be most tired.

Reducing stress

There are things you can do to help you feel better and reduce stress. You probably know what works well for you. This could include:

  • doing regular and light exercise, such as walking
  • eating healthily
  • getting enough sleep
  • having a bath
  • doing yoga.

It can be difficult to fit these things in during pregnancy or while looking after a new baby. When you are also having treatment it can be even harder. But if you can manage to do some of these things you may find it helps you cope.

We have more information about what you can do to help your well-being. Tommy’s is an organisation that gives pregnancy health information.

Doing things that make you feel good

During treatment, there will be times you feel well enough to enjoy time with family and friends. Plan to do positive things that make you feel good regularly. You can work this around your treatment. Planning for the baby’s arrival may be something to focus on that makes you feel good.

You may be thinking about trying complementary therapies. Talk to your cancer doctor or nurse and your midwife first to check it is safe.

Some therapies, such as yoga or a gentle massage, may help you to relax. But avoid having a massage on your tummy area or the area of the cancer.