Preparing to welcome a baby into your life brings its own set of challenges in terms of health and lifestyle changes. Every woman is different and every baby is too, so from morning sickness and ‘baby brain’ to feeling radiant with that special ‘glow’, you can be assured of a unique, but ultimately rewarding experience.

When you have a chronic illness such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), this tumultuous time can seem even more so. Effective management of your condition becomes even more important to ensure a smooth pregnancy and the health of your baby.

IBD & Fertility

If you’re planning to start or add to your family, you should seek advice from your doctor as early as you can – pre-conception, if possible. That way, you can take every step to get your health tiptop before experiencing the emotional and physical rollercoaster ride of pregnancy.

Having your IBD under control before becoming pregnant would be the ideal situation. During times of remission you’ll be in a better state to begin your journey to parenthood, letting you spend more time cooing over tiny booties and less time trying to cope with IBD-related pain and discomfort.

There is no direct link between IBD conditions and reduced fertility, but occasionally some medications used to manage IBD can affect fertility in men and women. Gastrointestinal (GI) surgery can also affect your ability to conceive – check with your doctor if you’re concerned about this. If you’ve recently had surgery, you’ll need to rest and recuperate before trying for a baby. It’s important that your body recovers fully before trying to cope with the demands of a growing bump.

During pregnancy

If your IBD symptoms are active when you fall pregnant, chances are mood swings and indigestion will just make you feel worse. Pain, bloating, gas and diarrhoea are bad enough without your hormones going haywire and a few months of morning sickness!

Whilst it’s always best to be prepared and try to conceive while you’re in good health, sometimes the best surprises are unexpected! If this is the case, there’s no need to stress out. The vast majority of women with ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease can expect to have a normal, healthy pregnancy, with little chance that their IBD symptoms will become worse or affect their baby’s health.

It’s unlikely that being pregnant will cause your IBD to act up more than normal. If it does, remember you have support from your doctor – they’ll be able to help you manage any relapses in a way that’s safe for both mother and baby.

Many women steer clear of medication during pregnancy, fearing that these may harm their child. If you have IBD you should always check with your doctor before making any changes to your treatment program. Sometimes managing your IBD symptoms with medication is better for your baby than the additional stress and pain caused by a flare-up.

Always, always ask your doctor! They’re there to help and they’ve seen it all – they deal with cases like yours on a daily basis. Don’t be afraid or embarrassed about bringing up any concerns with them. Discussing all your options with your obstetrician and your regular physician or IBD specialist early in your pregnancy can help them develop a treatment plan to manage your IBD that’s good for you, your baby and your lifestyle.

Stress is a big no-no for IBD sufferers – it often triggers or worsens symptoms. When you’re pregnant, it’s even more vital to keep as cool as a cucumber. Stress can affect both mother and baby, so try to slow down a bit and take it easy. Relaxation and downtime aren’t luxuries, they’re imperatives! (At least if you have IBD and you’re pregnant.) These nine months are a really special time in your life and you should enjoy it, not be stressed out.

If you do have concerns about your IBD or anything to do with your health when it comes to fertility, conception, pregnancy and birth, your IBD health team and your obstetrician are your best resources. A quick chat with the experts can help alleviate your anxiety (remember a relaxed mum is good for baby!) and also raise important issues that may affect your care and treatment.