Pregnancy and Spinal Cord Injury

July 6, 2022

Editors’ Note: Ten days ago, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, and ended women’s 50-year-long right to abortion. Women with spinal cord injuries have increased health risks during pregnancy. We are devoting this month’s issue to information on Pregnancy and Spinal Cord injury.

This post contains:

  • Information on some of the latest research regarding risks to pregnant women with SCI
  • A Factsheet guide to  pregnancy for women with spinal cord injury produced by the Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center, a major national resource for SCI information 
  • A video interview with SCI expert, Diane Rowles, on how pregnancy affects the body of a women with SCI  

A 2021 review of current medical research on pregnancy and SCI concluded:
“Pregnancy in women with spinal cord injury is considered high risk because it may exacerbate many of their existing problems, including autonomic dysreflexia, spasms, decubitus ulcers, urinary tract infections and respiratory infections. Due to the relative rarity of spinal cord injury in the general obstetric population, clinicians often lack familiarity of these specific problems and the women themselves are usually more experienced in their own management than their obstetric team. However, studies have demonstrated that pregnancy outcomes are generally good with appropriate and experienced obstetric care.”
Source: Journal of Obstetric Medicine:

A research study in the United Kingdom, published in 2020, noted:
Spinal cord injury is considered high risk in pregnancy and presents unique challenges. Common medical complications include urinary tract infections, pressure ulcers, impaired pulmonary function, anemia, venous thromboembolism and autonomic dysreflexia.” The study concluded that if the risks are safely managed: “pregnancy outcomes are generally successful and that vaginal delivery can be safely achieved in the majority of women, independent of the level of SCI” 
Source: BMC Journal of Pregnancy and Childbirth:

This Factsheet from the Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center (MSKTC) is an excellent source of information about pregnancy, labor and delivery for women with spinal cord injuries. This guide is designed to specifically to help women with SCI deal with all aspects of pregnancy, including how to work with their healthcare team. The MSKTC Factsheets provide detailed information that is written for consumers, based on research, and approved by experts.

Download Full Factsheet

Diane Rowles, MS, NP

Diane Rowles has been part of the Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Program at the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab in Chicago for over 35 years. She is also Assistant Professor in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.  

Rowles performs one-on-one teaching with patients and families in all areas of spinal cord injury and health management. She also lectures and writes scholarly articles on topics ranging from sexuality after a spinal cord injury, to fertility issues that arise from physical disability.

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