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MS and Pregnancy: Here’s What Prospective Mothers Should Know

According to new research, women with MS do not need to worry about having increased health complications during pregnancy. Still, if you are a prospective mother with MS, having regular appointments with your physician will help you guarantee that your health is being properly monitored.

May 12, 2021
Annabeth Collis

With every pregnancy, it’s normal to have questions and concerns about your own health and the health of your baby. But for mothers with certain health conditions, there can be even more factors to take into consideration. 

On February 3, 2021, a study was released in the online issue of Neurology Clinical Practice — an official journal of the American Academy of Neurology — about the effects that MS could have on a woman’s pregnancy. 

Are you a pregnant woman with MS? Here are all the things you should know about possible health risks during your pregnancy. 

a doctor looking at brain scans
Multiple sclerosis is a disease that impacts the flow of information between the brain and the body. 

What is Multiple Sclerosis? 

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the central nervous system (CNS) that disrupts the flow of information both within the brain and between the brain and the body. The central nervous system is made up of the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerves, and multiple sclerosis affects these parts of a person's neurological functioning. 

Multiple sclerosis involves an immune-mediated process. During this process, an abnormal response of the body’s immune systems is directed against the central nervous system. The immune system causes inflammation within the central nervous system of a person with MS. This inflammation then damages myelin — the insulating substance that forms around nerves — in addition to nerve fibers and the specialized cells responsible for making myelin.  

Myelin and nerve fibers allow electrical impulses to be transmitted along a person’s nerve cells, but these impulses slow down when myelin is damaged. Because myelin and nerve fibers can be damaged or destroyed in individuals with MS, important electrical impulses travelling along the CNS can be altered or completely stopped. 

The resulting damage to areas of a person’s CNS can lead to a range of neurological symptoms. Although the symptoms of MS are variable and unpredictable, some symptoms are more common than others, including: 

  • Fatigue
  • Walking difficulties
  • Numbness or tingling
  • Spasticity
  • Weakness
  • Vision problems
  • Dizziness and vertigo
  • Cognitive changes
  • Emotional changes
  • Pain and itching
  • Depression 

Less common symptoms can include:

  • Speech problems
  • Swallowing problems
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Breathing problems
  • Hearing loss

What Causes MS? 

If a person has multiple sclerosis, their immune system attacks the central nervous system (CNS) and causes damage, which in turn slows or stops nerve transmission. But what causes MS? 

As of right now, the exact cause of MS is unknown. However, scientists believe that MS is triggered by a combination of factors. In an effort to identify the true cause of the disease, scientists are conducting research in the following areas:

  • Immunology - the study of the immune system
  • Epidemiology - the study of disease patterns 
  • Genetics - specifically, understanding the genes that may be functioning incorrectly in people with MS
  • Infectious Agents - examining viruses

Once scientists understand what causes MS, finding more effective ways to treat the disease will become a lot easier. Also, every study on MS brings scientists closer to understanding how to prevent the disease in the first place. 

a pile of charts and graphs
In order to find out more about the effect of multiple sclerosis on pregnancy, Melinda Magyari conducted research about the possible risks. 

The American Academy of Neurology’s Study

A new study published in February’s online issue of Neurology Clinical Practice has reported findings on the risks MS could pose to a woman’s pregnancy. 

The study author, Melinda Magyari, M.D., Ph.D., from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, expressed her motivations for conducting this specific study. 

"Women with multiple sclerosis may be understandably concerned about the risks of pregnancy,” Magyari said. “While previous research has shown there is no higher risk of birth defects for babies born to women with MS, there are still a lot of unknowns around pregnancy and MS. We wanted to find out if women with MS are at risk for a variety of pregnancy complications.”

The results of the study were based on findings from 2,930 pregnant women with MS who were compared to 56,958 pregnant women without MS. All of the women involved gave birth between 1997 and 2016.

a mother holding her baby
While MS does not seem to increase a woman’s risk for complications during pregnancy, MS can still lead to some differences in a woman’s pregnancy. 

Magyari’s Study: What Did They Find?

Overall, the study found that women with multiple sclerosis may not be at a higher risk of pregnancy complications. According to Magyari, the overall pregnancies of women with MS were just as healthy as those of mothers without MS. 

Essentially, researchers found no difference in the risk of these pregnancy complications between women with MS and women without the disease:

  • Preeclampsia
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Placental complications
  • Emergency cesarean section
  • Instrumental delivery
  • Stillbirth
  • Preterm birth
  • Congenital malformations
  • Low Apgar score (referring to the test of a newborn’s heath, including measures like heart rate, reflexes, and muscle tone immediately after birth)

However, the study also found that the babies of mothers with MS had a higher chance of being delivered via elective cesarean section or induced delivery. Related to this, the researchers found that the babies born to mothers with MS were small for their age compared to the babies born to women without the disease. 

Notable Differences

Although there were not many observed differences between the health of the pregnancies, there were some variations in the births of the mothers with MS.

Notably, researchers found that women with MS were 89% more likely to have an elective c-section, and women with MS were 15% more likely to have an induced delivery than women without the disease. 

Also, researchers noted that mothers with MS were 13% less likely to give birth to babies that had signs of being deprived of oxygen. Magyari attributes these lower odds of asphyxia to the higher prevalence of elective c-sections among women with MS.

Compared to women without MS, women with MS were also found to be 29% more likely to have babies that were born small for their gestational age. But it is important to note that this study did not collect data on the smoking habits of the mothers — a factor that could impact babies being born small for their corresponding gestational age. 

a pair of green baby shoes
For all expecting mothers, with and without MS, checking in with your doctor can ensure that your health and your baby’s health are stable. 

Every pregnancy poses risks for the health of the mother and baby, but women with MS might be especially concerned about birth complications. According to new research, women with MS do not need to worry about having increased health complications during pregnancy. Still, if you are a prospective mother with MS, having regular appointments with your physician will help you guarantee that your health is being properly monitored. 

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