Q: How does irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) affect baby and mom during pregnancy?

A: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder characterized by abnormally increased motility of the small and large intestines, producing abdominal pain, constipation, or diarrhea. It is also called irritable colon, spastic colon.

IBS is more prevalent in women than in men. During pregnancy, some women feel their IBS symptoms fade away while others see an increase in symptoms. Treating IBS during pregnancy can be difficult due to the constant changes in hormone levels. There is a suspected link between hormone levels and IBS. Most doctors will try to treat IBS symptoms with changes in diet, fiber supplementation and exercise.

Relief comes to some women during pregnancy due to the link between IBS and menstruation. During menstruation, the symptoms of IBS tend to be more severe. As menstruation stops during pregnancy, these symptoms are often less drastic even with the fluctuation in hormones.

Inconsistency of symptoms is the most common problem with IBS during pregnancy. If the women suffering from IBS normally has constipation, she may suddenly find herself running back and forth to the bathroom with diarrhea. Gas and bloating can also become more severe one month only to disappear the next.

The most difficult symptoms of IBS during pregnancy are abdominal cramps. If abdominal cramping becomes prevalent, the pregnant mother may not be able to differentiate these cramps from the cramps of labor. If there are ever cramps occurring during pregnancy, the obstetrician needs to be contacted immediately.

There are no known cases of IBS affecting the fetus or the pregnancy gestation. In all cases, the IBS symptoms are more difficult for mom than they are for baby. Some mothers find they are able to talk with other pregnant women online about their IBS symptoms and potential lifestyle changes to make these symptoms more manageable.