AGA publishes care pathway for IBD in pregnancy



Ideally, pregnant women with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) should receive coordinated care from gastroenterologists and maternal-fetal medicine specialists, plus additional input from nutritionists, lactation counselors, and colorectal surgeons as needed, states a new report from the American Gastroenterological Association.

But in reality, these women often receive scant and conflicting advice from health care providers, writes Uma Mahadevan, MD, of the University of California, San Francisco, with her associates in Gastroenterology.

An “explosion” of new treatments in the past 15 years has given hope to many women with IBD who wish to be healthy enough to conceive, the experts noted. But in a recent AGA survey, more than 40% of obstetrician/gynecologist (OB/GYN) providers felt that women with IBD received inadequate information about pregnancy, compared with patients with other immune-mediated diseases. Strikingly, 94% of surveyed clinicians said they had patients stop taking their IBD medications during pregnancy because they feared harm to the fetus. In doing so, these patients actually risked greater disease activity, perinatal flares, and adverse pregnancy outcomes.

Therefore, the AGA, in partnership with the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, and Girls With Guts, crafted a standardized, evidence-based care pathway for health care providers from diverse disciplines who treat women with IBD in all stages of family planning. Its authors recommended that a maternal-fetal medicine specialist oversee obstetric care whenever possible. A gastroenterologist should continue IBD care by seeing the patient once during the first or second trimester and thereafter depending on IBD severity. The patient should receive a “clear and easily understandable consensus plan” for managing complex care during and after pregnancy, according to the pathway.

Aminosalicylates, biologics, and immunomodulators can be continued during pregnancy and delivery. Biologics have not shown teratogenicity in large studies, but monotherapy is preferred to reduce infection risk in infants. Clinicians should calculate weight-based doses according to prepregnancy weight. Doses can be tweaked to achieve minimal trough levels near delivery.

During pregnancy, patients should stop antidiarrheal therapy with loperamide and diphenoxylate when possible. Proinflammatory mediators are known to damage hippocampal neurogenesis and neuronal cytoarchitecture during brain development, so patients should understand the need for good inflammatory control during pregnancy. However, biologic therapy is preferred, and patients should only use corticosteroids adjunctively if needed for flares.

The usual indications guide the choice between a vaginal or cesarean delivery, the pathway states. Vaginal delivery often is possible for patients without active perineal disease, while cesarean is recommended for women with prior perineal surgery or active perineal disease or rectovaginal fistulas. The perineal area can be examined for active disease during the routine visit for group B streptococcus screening culture at 35-37 weeks’ gestation. For women who have had ileal-pouch anal anastomosis surgery, mode of delivery does not seem to affect pouch function, but cesarean delivery is thought to prevent anal sphincter injury and the accompanying risk of incontinence.

For ostomy patients, stretching of the abdominal wall during pregnancy can lead to stomal problems, such as displacement, enlargement, retraction, stenosis, and prolapse. A nutritionist can help ostomy patients avoid excess weight gain, and a colorectal surgeon and ostomy/wound nurse can help coordinate postpartum care. If cesarean delivery is needed, simply covering the ostomy with gauze sufficiently protects the operative field.

Since IBD increases the risk of venous thromboembolism, clinicians should consider prophylactic anticoagulation after cesarean delivery and during a hospitalization for IBD flares, according to the care pathway. Breastfeeding women can receive unfractionated heparin, low-molecular-weight heparin, or warfarin up to 3-6 weeks post partum, but they should not receive oral direct thrombin or factor Xa inhibitors.

In addition, most IBD medications are either undetectable in breast milk or are secreted at such low concentrations that they pose no known risk to infants. Therefore, patients can continue IBD medications after delivery – except methotrexate, which has not been sufficiently studied to assess its safety. Breastfeeding women with IBD should avoid using fenugreek to increase milk production, since it can cause diarrhea and bleeding.

Finally, infants should not receive live vaccines during the first 6 months after birth if their mothers received biologics besides certolizumab during the third trimester, the pathway notes. In the United States, this applies only to the oral rotavirus vaccine.

For more information about the care pathway and resources for your patients, visit

SOURCE: Mahadevan U et al. Gastroenterology. 2019 Jan 15. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2018.12.022.

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