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Life After Kidney Donation: Pregnancy & Childbirth

Marian Charlton SRN, RN-CCTC Clinical Manager, Living Donor, Kidney Paired Donation & Outreach Programs, Department of Organ Transplant, Hackensack University Medical Center

If you are a woman of childbearing age and you are considering becoming a living kidney donor, you may have questions or concerns about how kidney donation will affect your ability to get pregnant and have children in the future.

These questions may include:

  • Can I still get pregnant after I donate a kidney?
  • How long after donating a kidney can I get pregnant?
  • Are there increased risks to getting pregnant after kidney donation?

While most women who become pregnant after donating a kidney have normal pregnancies with minimal complications, the National Kidney Registry wants to make sure you are fully informed so you are able to weigh the risks and benefits and make the right decision for you and your family.

Here’s what you need to know about kidney donation, pregnancy and childbirth.

Waiting Period After Kidney Donation

While it is fine to get pregnant after donating a kidney, experts say female kidney donors should wait at least six months after donation to become pregnant. The body requires time to recover from the surgery and to adjust to living with one kidney prior to pregnancy.

Fertility, Conception and Kidney Donation

Donating a kidney should have no effect on a women’s ability to get pregnant. In numerous studies, there is no data that suggests kidney donation affects the ability to conceive.

Safety of Pregnancy After Kidney Donation

In the early days of living kidney donation, doctors discouraged women of childbearing age from becoming kidney donors, fearing that pregnancy would put too much stress on a single kidney.

Not only has that guideline changed over the years as kidney donation surgery has become safer and doctors have a better understanding of just how well a single kidney can function on its own, it was even proved wrong at the time.

In 1966, less than a decade after the very first kidney transplant, 22-year-old Patty Coy donated a kidney to her brother, Butch Newman, who was days away from death from kidney failure.

The doctors warned Patty that she should not have children after the donation, but Patty ignored that advice. Already the mother of a 10-month-old girl at the time of the donation, Patty went on to have three more children. She now has 24 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren and is still close to her brother, now 80 and still thriving with the kidney his sister donated 56 years ago.

These days, women of childbearing age won’t be disqualified from donating a kidney solely due to their age or future plans to become pregnant. Many women have babies after donating a kidney without any ill effects, for either the child or the mother.

Risks of Pregnancy After Kidney Donation

Some studies have suggested there might be a slightly higher risk of high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia, and gestational diabetes during pregnancy for women who have donated a kidney, but in most cases those conditions are manageable and will disappear once the baby is born.

In addition, a 2020 review of 16 different scientific studies published between 1985 and 2020 from eight different countries related to post-donation pregnancy found that results showing increased risks may not be strictly accurate.

In general, most studies were too small to show meaningful results, and the post-donation pregnancy data was compared to the general population rather than a more similar control group. This is significant because living kidney donors are not a random subset of the population—they are a specific group that has undergone extensive medical screening and been determined to have a higher level of general health and lower risk factors than the general population.

The review found that most studies are consistent in stating that overall, women who become pregnant after kidney donation have a risk level similar to that of the general population and that there is a low risk of post-donation pregnancy complications for both the mother and the baby.

Women considering kidney donation should consult their own medical providers about their plans to become pregnant, and should be seen regularly throughout their pregnancy to check their blood pressure, kidney function and the developing baby’s well-being.

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