Spinal cord injury and pregnancy

As the Sundance Channel rolls out its latest reality show, "Push Girls," the public will be meeting characters who aren't typical prime-time heroines. The new show is featuring a cast of young, attractive women who also happen to have spinal cord injuries. Among the topics the characters are addressing are their dating lives and relationships. Some are discussing the desire to become parents.

Every year, more than 2,000 women of childbearing age find themselves with a life-altering spinal cord injury (SCI) from a car crash or other accident. Even as they learn to navigate the world in a new way, many women hold on to the dreams they had before their injury, in particular wanting to have children. "It used to be that people would tell these young women they couldn't have children or that they shouldn't or that getting pregnant was too dangerous for them," says Lisa A. Beck, R.N., C.N.S., with the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., who guides women with spinal cord injury through pregnancy.

Physicians who treat young women with paraplegia and quadriplegia are becoming accustomed to addressing the topic of pregnancy. Spinal cord injury specialist Mark W. Christopherson, M.D., with the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, works with patients' obstetricians. He emphasizes:

  • Nearly 14 percent of women with spinal cord injuries go on to have at least one child.
  • Even though a woman may have lost mobility and sensation from her chest down, her reproductive organs still work as they used to, and her body can sustain a pregnancy.
  • When it comes to giving birth, a woman's uterus will have contractions during labor, making it possible to deliver without a C-section.
  • Special care needs to be taken during pregnancy to keep women from experiencing complications such as autonomic dysreflexia, urinary tract infections, pressure ulcers, deep vein thrombosis or respiratory difficulty.

Resources at Mayo Clinic

The Mayo Clinic Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program offers a collaborative team approach with obstetricians to assist women with spinal cord injury through safe and successful pregnancies.

  • Lisa A. Beck, R.N., C.N.S., is available to talk about the special concerns of young women with spinal cord injuries who want to be parents.
  • Mark W. Christopherson, M.D., is available to talk about the medical treatment of women with spinal cord injuries.
  • Daniel E. Rohe, Ph.D., L.P., a psychologist with the Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program at Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, collaborated with Beck to develop a contemporary patient education video about sexuality and relationships for patients with spinal cord injuries. He is available to talk about the emotional and psychological concerns women may face regarding the topic of sex.

Mayo Clinic rehabilitation professionals recently used patient-centric care methodology to create a contemporary SCI sexual health video called "Feeling Your Way: Relationships and Sexuality after Spinal Cord Injury." Video topics include:

  • Re-establishing sexual identity
  • Dating and relationships
  • Pregnancy and parenting
  • Adapting to changes after SCI
  • Managing physical complications

Watch a preview trailer of this 15-minute DVD, available for purchase at the Mayo Clinic Store.