Childbearing decisions and family size among women with rheumatoid arthritis

Arthritis Rheum. 2006 Apr 15;55(2):217-23. doi: 10.1002/art.21859.


Objective: To estimate childbearing trends relative to age and stage of family development and to report on childbearing decisions among women with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Methods: Information about childbearing history and decisions was collected through structured telephone interviews with an existing cohort of married women with RA (n = 411), and was examined according to women's age at RA diagnosis and when RA was diagnosed relative to when children were born.

Results: Almost all women (91.2%) reported at least 1 pregnancy; the majority (85.4%) reported at least 1 live birth. The odds of any pregnancy or a live birth were not significantly different according to age at diagnosis; however, women diagnosed at age < or =18 had fewer pregnancies and fewer children. Similarly, women diagnosed with RA prior to the birth of their first child had the fewest pregnancies and children. Few women (8%) reported being advised to limit family size, although approximately 20% reported that RA had affected their childbearing decisions. Being advised to limit family size was associated with fewer pregnancies and fewer children (P < 0.0001). Consideration of RA in childbearing decisions was more common among women diagnosed with RA at an early age. Women who reported that RA affected childbearing decisions were not less likely to have any pregnancy or any children, but had significantly fewer pregnancies and children.

Conclusion: Lower birth rates among women with RA may at least in part reflect choices by women to limit family sizes. Future research into the link between RA and fertility should take women's childbearing choices into account.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid*
  • Family Characteristics*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Reproductive Behavior*