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Pregnancy Problems

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) During Pregnancy

Answers to all your questions about how ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease and other inflammatory bowel diseases affect pregnancy.

What is inflammatory bowel disease during pregnancy?

Inflammatory bowel disease is any disease that causes inflammation of the bowel, or colon. Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are both inflammatory bowel diseases. If you’ve got inflammatory bowel disease, you’re probably wondering how it will affect you and baby during your pregnancy.

What are the signs of inflammatory bowel disease pregnancy?

Symptoms include abdominal pain and cramping, diarrhea, bloody stools and weight loss.

Are there any tests for inflammatory bowel disease?

Yes. There are a variety of tests that can help diagnose IBD, including a barium X-ray, but X-rays aren’t used in pregnancy. You’re more likely to be diagnosed from a stool sample or, depending on the severity of the symptoms, a colonoscopy, which allows the doctor to see the inside of the colon to spot any inflammation, ulcers or lesions.

How common is inflammatory bowel disease?

Approximately 1.4 million Americans have inflammatory bowel disease. Crohn’s disease is more common in women, while ulcerative colitis is slightly more common in men.

How did I get inflammatory bowel disease?

Researchers suspect there’s a genetic link. If someone in your family has inflammatory bowel disease, you’re more likely to have the disease also.

How will inflammatory bowel disease affect my baby?

Your baby will probably be fine. In fact, your inflammatory bowel disease symptoms might be better during pregnancy because of the changes in your hormones and immune system.

If you have a Crohn’s disease flare-up during your pregnancy, your baby is at slightly higher-than-normal risk of preterm birth or stillbirth (see next page for how to treat IBD during pregnancy).

What’s the best way to treat inflammatory bowel disease?

Certain anti-inflammatory meds can keep your disease in check. Talk to your doctor about which meds are safe during pregnancy. Surgery can also be used to treat severe cases of inflammatory bowel disease, but that’s something that will have to wait until after pregnancy.

What can I do to prevent inflammatory bowel disease?

You can’t prevent the disease, but if you have it, you can prevent flare-ups by eating a low-residue diet — which means avoiding nuts, seeds and raw fruits and veggies. Talk to your doctor about any food regimen, since baby needs a wide variety of nutrients. Managing stress (with yoga, meditation or group therapy) may also be helpful.

What do other pregnant moms do when they have inflammatory bowel disease?

“The worst flare of my life happened when my oldest son was around four months old. I did so well with my Crohn's during pregnancy, but life with a newborn just made my body crash. I think it's the lack of sleep combined with the toll breastfeeding takes on me... I went to a holistic doc who found out I had a soy intolerance that was flaring my Crohn's. Once I cut out the soy and all other trigger foods, I haven't had a flare ever since.”

“It seems that a lot of women with IBD flare following childbirth. I think I might have been in a very mild flare during pregnancy, because I was never, ever constipated (in fact, I was surprised to be more regular than I ever had before!), and my son was born three weeks early, with no complications. By about eight weeks postpartum, I was so sick.”

Are there any other resources for inflammatory bowel disease?

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse

Plus, more from The Bump:

Diarrhea During Pregnancy

Weight Loss During Pregnancy

Bowel Changes During Pregnancy

By Rebecca Kolp, MD, ob-gyn and medical director at Massachusetts General Hospital West