The Role Irritable Bowel Syndrome Plays in Conception and Pregnancy
Bloated belly, painful gas, and either too many or too few trips to the bathroom – IBS; it’s not a subject most women want to sit around and discuss over coffee, but for the 2.4 to 3.5 million people that head to the doctor’s each year to discuss symptoms associated with the GI disorder, IBS can be frustrating.
Females top the list of those afflicted with IBS at a rate of about two out of three patients, which means IBS will play a part in a considerable number of conceptions and pregnancies each year. Symptoms of the disorder can vary. Some women suffer from IBS constipation, which can be associated with feeling the need to go but not being able to, while others deal with IBS diarrhea.
The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) conducted a survey of those suffering from IBS constipation and found the most common complaints included abdominal pain and gas. Those with IBS diarrhea reported similar abdominal pain symptoms but also listed nausea and loss of bowel control as problematic issues.
In healthy women, IBS does not contribute to problems with conception. However, stress, which doesn’t cause IBS, can bring about an episode; and every woman who has ever tried to conceive can confess to the stress involved.
Trying to Conceive and IBS
Dr. Carolyn Dean, MD, ND, and author of IBS for Dummies and IBS for Dummies Cookbook, states cramping in the abdomen comes with both types of IBS; and when a woman complains of cramping, she immediately thinks of magnesium deficiency, especially if there are other muscle cramps or twitches.
“Cramping and spasms of the fallopian tubes is a cause of infertility. That’s why I always recommend magnesium to women who are trying to conceive,” says Dean, who goes on to say those with IBS diarrhea should be careful about taking magnesium and might instead consider using Epsom salt baths or angstrom magnesium, which is low in potency. “Otherwise, most people can take magnesium citrate powder and put it in water as a tea or as a cool drink and sip it through the day for relief of all symptoms of cramping.”
Other ideas for dealing with symptoms of IBS during conception include:
- Warm baths. Relaxing is important in keeping IBS under control, and warm baths are known for their soothing and calming powers. Sitting in warm water can help alleviate cramping that might be taking place, too.
- Check your plate. If you haven’t already, keep a diary of foods to see if certain foods exacerbate your symptoms. Dairy and coffee are known to cause stomach discomfort in those with IBS, though these are not always the culprits. Other foods like fiber and nuts can too. Writing down what you eat and when you have symptoms can help you narrow down what to avoid, which can help alleviate IBS not only during pregnancy but in years to come.
- Consider probiotics. Probiotics, which are a certain type of bacteria, have been shown in some IBS sufferers to alleviate symptoms. IFFGD states a particular organism, called Bifidobacterium infantis 35624, has been shown to be superior in relieving the main symptoms associated with IBS, such as pain and bloating. Check your local health store or vitamin aisle for probiotic supplements.
IBS and Pregnancy
As we all know, hormones fluctuate when a women is pregnant, so once you do conceive you may or may not find that the IBS worsens. Dr. Nnenna Okpara, a gastroenterologist at the Women & Infants Hospital’s Center for Women’s Gastrointestinal Health, says, “In pregnancy, there are high levels of the female hormones, particularly progesterone, which has a slowing effect on the bowels that can make constipation and bloating worse.” Those suffering from IBS with constipation may experience more episodes during pregnancy, while those with IBS diarrhea may notice some improvement.
Those who do suffer from pain, gas, and bloating during pregnancy can alleviate some of the issues through dietary modification. Okpara suggests limiting gas-producing foods and artificial sweeteners, and she says, “Sipping warm herbal teas, like peppermint, chamomile, or ginger tea, are believed to be particularly soothing to the intestinal tract.” When pregnant though, always check with an obstetrician prior to using alternative remedies.
“In general,” Okpara says, “IBS, though bothersome, is a relatively benign condition, and usually does not interfere significantly with the normal course of pregnancy.”