pregnancy complications after bariatric surgery

shutterstock_442442554pregnancy after bariatric surgery, complications including intestinal obstructions or hernia, gastric ulcer, band, or staple line complications have been reported, which all need fast reaction to minimize maternal and fetal risks.Strong persistent abdominal pain, excess vomiting, and persistent nausea necessitate urgent consultation of an experienced metabolic surgeon.In case series, small intestinal obstructions or inner hernias in pregnancy were described.In a case of persisting vomiting, intravenous supplementation of vitamins and/or trace elements together with fluid replacement needs to be considered. In particular, vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency needs to be considered as patients after RYGB and BPD-DS are at higher risk, and in pregnancy, hyperemesis gravidarum might aggravate this condition. Symptoms of thiamine deficiency are Wernicke encephalopathy, oculomotor dysfunction, and gait ataxia. If Wernicke encephalopathy is suspected, the administration of intravenous solutions containing glucose may further deplete the remaining available thiamine and precipitate Korsakoff’s syndrome , In case of thiamine deficiency, intravenous thiamine infusion with 100 mg thiamine followed by consecutive intramuscular injection (100 mg/day for 5 days) and oral maintenance (50–100 mg/day) should be applied.The application of oral antibiotics recommended in pregnancy: amoxicillin for 7–10 days per month over two months is recommended , who hypothesized small intestinal bacterial overgrowth due to alterations in gut microbiome following bariatric surgery as a cause for thiamine deficiency.

After insufficient long-term nutrient intake, the reinstitution of nutrient intake should be performed gradually and preferably in an inpatient setting under close monitoring of electrolytes including potassium and phosphorous, since a potentially life-threatening refeeding syndrome might occur. If a gastric band was implanted, a metabolic surgeon needs to assess a relaxation of the gastric band already in early pregnancy.

Supplements during Pregnancy

Regular follow-ups to detect nutritional deficiencies before pregnancy and during pregnancy at least every trimester are recommended . After bariatric surgery, micronutrient supplementation should be provided to all pregnant women. A recent systematic review summarizes several relevant cohort studies and case reports describing micronutritional deficiencies in pregnancies after bariatric surgery and found associations of vitamin K, A, B12, folate acid, and iron depletion with maternal and fetal complications, but not for other micronutrients as calcium, zinc, magnesium, iodine, or copper.


According to nutritional recommendations for normal pregnancy, daily protein intake is recommended with 0.9g protein per kilogram body weight in the second trimester and 1.0 g/kg in the third trimester. Calculations are always based on normal weight (also in overweight/obese patients). During lactation, 1.2 g/kg is recommended. Recommendations of daily intake for protein in pregnancy after bariatric surgery are not available and might depend on the type of bariatric surgery and time lapse from surgery.



Due to expansion of the blood volume, iron demand increases from 15 mg/d to 30 mg/d. Haemoglobin levels decrease physiologically. The iron status should be examined at regular intervals, as well as haemoglobin levels, which determine the intensity of iron supplementation. Treatment of iron deficiency should start orally. Intravenous iron is not recommended in the first trimester. Oral calcium and iron supplements interact and should not be taken in combination. Interestingly, in pregnancies with RYGB longer than four years time to conception, significantly lower haemoglobin levels and higher need of intravenous iron substitution or packed red cell transfusion were identified compared to women with less than 4 years time to conception. Besides anaemia, no other significant complications in mother or child were reported.


Calcium homeostasis is strongly influenced by bariatric surgery as well as pregnancy. An acidic environment is required to allow absorption of calcium. Throughout pregnancy and lactation, a higher calcium demand is known, which may be critical for women after a bariatric procedure, regarding bone density and dental state. Especially in the last trimester, a significant transfer from the mother to the fetus is observed to increase fetal skeletal mineralization. Thus, calcium is mobilized from the maternal calcium reservoir, which is mainly bone, and renal calcium retention, which increases risk for osteoporosis. Higher calcium doses in pregnancies after bariatric surgery are recommended compared with normal pregnancies. Calcium deficiency was reported in 15.2% in the first and second trimesters and 20% in the third trimester in pregnant women after RYGB.


Nocturnal calf cramps occur in 5–30% of pregnant women. They are associated with low magnesium levels. These can be well treated by oral magnesium supplements. In addition, it is useful in the prevention of muscular contractions of the uterus . High doses of magnesium can cause osmotic diarrhoea.


Low zinc levels, which also occur in pregnant women without bariatric surgery, are associated with early childbirth, low birth weight, and spina bifida. During lactation, eczema, dermatitis, and failure to thrive were reported in the offspring. In order to prevent subsequent copper deficiency, at least 1 mg of copper should be given per each 8–15 mg of zinc substitution. Zinc inadequacy in pregnant women after RYGB was reported in 20%, with no associations to birth weight or maternal anthropometry.


Iodine deficiency is common , and a recent analysis demonstrates iodine deficiency even in normal pregnancies . The upper urinary concentration of 250 µg should not be exceeded because of the significant association with subclinical hypothyroidism, whereas the WHO recommends not to exceed a urinary iodine concentration of 500 µg in pregnant women. After bariatric surgery, limited resorption in women planning to become pregnant or in pregnant women might be associated with lower urinary iodine concentrations. Especially after malabsorptive interventions, evidence is scarce, particularly considering resorption of iodine happens in the stomach and small intestine. In nonpregnant subjects after malabsorptive interventions, increased urinary iodine concentration was found 3 to 18 months after bariatric surgery, Furthermore, no iodine deficiency was identified ten years after gastric bypass or vertical banded gastroplasty. So far, no studies reported maternal or fetal adverse events in pregnancy due to iron, calcium, magnesium, zinc, or iodine deficiency after bariatric procedures.


In general, substitution using vitamin supplements is recommended in pregnancy as well as after bariatric surgery, especially in case of deficiencies identified. Multivitamin preparations also for use in pregnancy may contain vitamin A or retinol equivalents and have to be prescribed cautiously because of potential teratogenicity in high doses.

Vitamin D

In healthy adults, a daily vitamin D intake of 800 IU is recommended. The target level is a 25(OH)D serum concentration of above 50 nmol/l (20 ng/mL). The Endocrine Society recommends a maximal dose of 4000 IU/d in pregnancy or when planning to get pregnant. In postbariatric populations, doses up to 6000 IU/d are discussed for nonpregnant women. vitamin D status and its relations with ionic calcium and parathyroid hormone (PTH) in pregnant women after RYGB found vitamin D deficiency (≤20 ng/mL) or insufficiency (>20–30 ng/mL) above 70% in all trimesters . Negative correlations between calcium and PTH as well as an association of vitamin D with higher risk of urinary tract infection were reported.

Folic Acid

Women planning to become pregnant should substitute folic acid after stabilization of their body weight. The substitution should start at least four weeks before conception and continue in pregnancy. A daily intake of 0.4 mg folic acid is recommended. Prevalence of folic acid deficiency was reported in 0–16% of pregnant women with bariatric procedures. Deficiencies of folic acid in and before pregnancy are associated with higher risk of neural tube defects. In a case series of three patients with no preconceptional nutritional counselling and poor postsurgical surveillance, severe neural tube anomalies were reported. Thus, higher doses of folic acid up to 5 mg might be needed due to higher demands and deficiencies reported after bariatric surgery, which are also recommended in women with type 2 diabetes mellitus and body mass index above 30 kg/m2 until twelve weeks of gestation.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 levels should be regularly controlled. In case of deficiency, vitamin B12 should be administered parenterally or orally if locally available. Prevalence of vitamin B12 deficiency was reported in about 50% of pregnant women with bariatric procedures. Neonatal vitamin B12 deficiency may cause irreversible neurologic defects and thus needs to be detected early.

Vitamin A

In the literature, recommended vitamin A doses are divergent. During pregnancy, recommends a retinol equivalent of 1100 µg (i.e., 3666 IU) per day from the fourth month of gestation onwards until the end of pregnancy. An upper limit of 5000 IU (1600 µg retinol equivalent) with inclusion of different vitamin A isoforms (retinol, retinol ester, β-carotene) in nutrition is described in American literature to prevent malformations. In women planning a pregnancy or pregnant women, the β-carotene form of vitamin A is recommended over retinol. More than half of pregnant women with bariatric surgery were found to be deficient in vitamin A levels.Significant associations of vitamin A deficiency with urinary tract infection and dumping syndrome were found.

Vitamin E

The elimination of free radicals is associated with vitamin E. recommends a daily intake of 13 mg tocopherol equivalent (=19.4 IU), and the EFSA recommends a daily intake of 11 mg for women with no additional need in pregnant or lactating women and a 300 mg/d (=447 IU) upper tolerable intake level.

Vitamin K

A daily intake of 70 µg phylloquinone is recommended, After bariatric surgery, vitamin K shows reduced absorption and consequently transfers across the placenta. Thus, monitoring might be useful. Either direct measurement of vitamin K or indirect measurement of prothrombin time is possible. Deficiencies are reported in a high proportion of pregnant women after bariatric procedures reaching nearly 90% in first trimester and about half of the women at birth. Furthermore, after biliopancreatic diversion, a case of vitamin K deficiency with maternal coagulopathy and vaginal hemorrhage and fetal hypocoagulability was reported . These are rare but severe complications. Chronic complications including psychomotor and mental retardation from bleedings or even neonatal death were reported.

During Lactation

The lactational phase is a very important period for the development of the offspring. During lactation, regular examinations in 3-month intervals are recommended in women after bariatric surgery. In case of hyperglycaemia in pregnancy, fasting glucose or HbA1c control is advised four to twelve weeks after birth to document impaired glycaemic control postpartum. An oral glucose tolerance test should not be performed due to high risk of hypoglycaemic adverse events and high variability of glucose levels postprandially. Fasting glucose and HbA1c are recommended to be controlled and indicate a diagnosis of diabetes if they exceed 126 mg/dl or 6.5% (5.6 mmol). Thus, capillary home blood glucose monitoring with several time points postprandially, CGMS, or FGM may be offered additionally to collect fasting and postprandial glucose levels over a few days in case of uncertainty.

Micronutrient deficiencies have to be identified with control of parameters as described above. Regular examinations of the newborn and examinations of the offspring in general are highly recommended.


Author: hopeobesitycentre

Today, bariatric surgery is not as uncommon as it was a few years ago. With a number of clinics dedicated to the treatment of obese people, what makes Hope Obesity Centre unique is the post operative care rendered to the patients.

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