Effects of disability on pregnancy experiences among women with impaired mobility

Not much is known about how functional impairments might affect the pregnancies of women with mobility disability. This study sought to explore complications that arise during pregnancy that are specifically associated with physical functional impairments of women with significant mobility disabilities. 22 women with significant mobility difficulties who had delivered babies within the prior 10 years; most participants were recruited through social networks. 2-h, in-depth telephone interviews were conducted using a semi-structured, open-ended interview protocol. We used NVIVO software to sort interview transcript texts for conventional content analyses. The women’s mean (standard deviation) age was 34.8 (5.3) years. Most were white, well-educated, and higher income; eight women had spinal cord injuries, four cerebral palsy, and 10 had other conditions; 18 used wheeled mobility aids; and 14 had cesarean deliveries (eight elective). Impairment-related complications during pregnancy included: falls; urinary tract and bladder problems; wheelchair fit and stability problems that reduced mobility and compromised safety; significant shortness of breath, sometimes requiring respiratory support; greater spasticity; bowel management difficulties; and skin integrity problems (this was rare, but many women greatly increased skin monitoring during pregnancy to prevent pressure ulcers).

As well as other pregnancy-associated health risks, women with mobility disabilities seem to experience problems associated with their functional impairments. Pre-conception planning and in-depth discussions during early pregnancy could possibly assist women with mobility disabilities to anticipate and address these difficulties.