Pregnancy and Crohns

by Melinda Hicks

I began bleeding in August of 2000. At first it was so light that I was able to ignore it, and when I finally told my doctor she blew me off. I switched to another doctor, but by that time I was pregnant with my second child. There were no tests they could do without harming the baby so I had to wait it out.

I got worse during the pregnancy. I went from red streaks on the toilet paper to turning the toilet water bright red twice a day. Suffice it to say, I was very ill during that pregnancy. I lost thirty pounds, and I had severe diarrhea through the whole nine months. I fought a staph infection that wouldn't go away no matter how many antibiotics I was given. My sex drive was nil. And I couldn't stop puking. Luckily, though, I delivered a healthy, 8 pound, baby girl. We named her Elizabeth.

After I had her, I became constipation. I figured that I was getting better so I didn't go see a doctor about the bleeding. Then two months later I got sick. My diarrhea returned with a vengeance and I began to puke uncontrollably. The pain in my stomach was on par with labor. At first I thought it was just the flu, but within a week I I was so weak that I could barely walk to the bathroom, I was constantly cold, and my breast milk had completely dried up.

My new doctor told me the bleeding was from hemorrhoids and the uncontrollable puking was from the flu. Finally, a month later, she sent me to a Gastrointerologist. I was so sick by then that I had to be wheeled into the doctor's office. In that month alone I lost thirty pounds.

Twelve hours later I had my first colonoscopy. My colon was so swollen and ulcerated that my doctor couldn't get the scope more than a few inches up inside me. I was put on Asacol, Imuran, and Flagyl and told to go home -- that I'd get better.

I didn't. I continued to loose blood until finally they hospitalized me. I was given three units of blood, and put on high doses of Prednisone. My doctor only intended for me to be on Prednisone for a month, but my body resisted getting off it. In the end it took me six months, and two Remicade treatments, to wean myself from that evil drug.

In the meantime my doctor neglected to mention a very important fact. Sometimes people with Crohns cannot digest The Pill. It goes straight through their system. Within two weeks of getting off Prednisone I got pregnant again. My daughter was 9 months old.

I made an appointment immediately with my doctor who insisted I go off the Imuran. Scared for me and the baby I was carrying, I began to scour the Internet, looking for any information on being pregnant with Crohns Disease. To my surprise there's very little information. I had more luck finding information on malnourishment.

I learned my son had a high chance of being low birth weight. Unfortunately this is not the kind of thing that can be monitored; it doesn't become evident until the last trimester. I also learned that about 1/3 of pregnant women with auto-immune diseases got better, that about 1/3 stayed the same, and 1/3 got worse. I was unlucky enough to be in the latter third.

The pregnancy with Elizabeth was worse, because the Crohns was untreated, but the pregnancy with Daniel was still pretty bad. I could barely eat, and I struggled badly with anemia. I was exhausted. My morning sickness lasted through the whole pregnancy. Around the eighth month I began to bleed again, but nothing could be done about it without harming my son. My doctor had blood waiting in surgery (I had a cesarean) when I had him, in case I lost too much. I nearly did; my hemoglobin was 7 after I had him. I'd also had my tubes tied, because my doctors were afraid I that I wouldn't make it through another pregnancy.

Here's what made me feel better:

  • Don't bother with the iron pills - they'll just make you ill. Get online or go to a naturopathic store and buy some ground beet root. The stuff your doctor will give you is difficult enough to digest if you're healthy, in a Crohnie it'll just go straight through your system.
  • Eat small meals, and avoid fiber at all costs. Remember that a good deal of what you eat isn't absorbed so make every calorie count. In other words, avoid the junk food. The importance of a well-balanced meal is even MORE important in someone with Crohns Disease.
  • Avoid stress to the best of your ability. If it's stressful -- avoid it. I stopped doing day care, and I slept as much as I could. Don't beat yourself up if you can't do as much as you normally do. Just expect that things are going to slide for a bit.
  • Take heart -- even with all the problems I had, my son was born healthy and nearly 9 pounds. I got back on my meds, and went into remission.

Melinda Hicks is the mom of three, living with them and her husband in Portland, Oregon. She's been diagnosed with Crohns Disease for four years.

Copyright © Melinda Hicks. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org, LLC.