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Are anti-TNF drugs safe for pregnant women with inflammatory bowel disease?

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Yes, anti-tumor necrosis factor (anti-TNF) therapy for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) can be continued during pregnancy.

IBD is often diagnosed and treated in women during their reproductive years. Consequently, these patients face important decisions about the management of their disease and the safety of their baby. Clinicians should be prepared to offer guidance by discussing the risks and benefits of anti-TNF agents with their pregnant patients who have IBD, as well as with those considering pregnancy.


Anti-TNF agents are monoclonal antibodies. Infliximab, adalimumab, and golimumab are actively transported into the fetal circulation via the placenta, mainly during the second and third trimesters. Certolizumab crosses the placenta only by passive means, because it lacks the fragment crystallizable (Fc) region required for placental transfer.1

Effects on pregnancy outcomes

In a 2016 meta-analysis,2 of 1,242 pregnancies in women with IBD, 482 were in women on anti-TNF therapy. It found no statistically significant difference in rates of adverse pregnancy outcomes including congenital abnormality, preterm birth, and low birth weight.

A meta-analysis of 1,216 pregnant women with IBD found no statistically significant differences in rates of spontaneous or elective abortion, preterm birth, low birth weight, or congenital malformation in those on anti-TNF therapy vs controls.3

A systematic review of 58 studies including more than 1,500 pregnant women with IBD who were exposed to anti-TNF agents concluded that there was no association with adverse pregnancy outcomes such as spontaneous abortion, preterm delivery, stillbirth, low birth weight, congenital malformation, or infection.4

A retrospective cohort study of 66 pregnant patients with IBD from several centers in Spain found that anti-TNF or thiopurine therapy during pregnancy did not increase the risk of pregnancy complications or neonatal complications.5

Effects on newborns

Cord blood studies have shown that maternal use of infliximab and adalimumab results in a detectable serum level in newborns, while cord blood levels of certolizumab are much lower.1,6 In some studies, anti-TNF drugs were detectable in infants for up to 6 months after birth, whereas other studies found that detectable serum levels dropped soon after birth.1,7

Addressing concern about an increased risk of infection or dysfunctional immune development in newborns exposed to anti-TNF drugs in utero, a systematic review found no increased risk.4 A retrospective multicenter cohort study of 841 children also reported no association between in utero exposure to anti-TNF agents and risk of severe infection in the short term or long term (mean of 4 years).8 Additional studies are under way to determine long-term risk to the newborn.7

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Pancreatitis: The great masquerader?

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