IMAGE DESCRIPTION: An image of a lady who is pregnant with two circular images; one of a definition of research and one with a chalk board saying MECFS. The title reads: BMJ Open publishes a systematic review of pregnancy and ME/CFS study. The ME Association logo (bottom right)

Research: A Systematic Review of Pregnancy and ME/CFS

The following research was funded by the ME Association Ramsay Research Fund and the Newcastle Healthcare Charity 

BMJ Open: Identifying, synthesising and appraising existing evidence relating to ME/CFS and pregnancy: a mixed-methods systematic review.



To identify, synthesise and appraise evidence relating to myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) and pregnancy.


Searches identified 3675 articles, 16 met the inclusion criteria: 4 quantitative (1 grey), 11 qualitative (9 grey) and 1 grey mixed-methods study. Of the four quantitative studies that reported on ME/CFS severity during pregnancy, two suggested pregnancy negatively impacted on ME/CFS, one found most women had no change in ME/CFS symptoms and one found ME/CFS improved; this difference in symptom severity across studies was supported by the qualitative evidence.

The qualitative literature also highlighted the importance of individualised care throughout pregnancy and birth, and the need for additional support during family planning, pregnancy and with childcare. Only one quantitative study reported on pregnancy outcomes, finding decreased vaginal births and higher rates of spontaneous abortions and developmental and learning delays associated with pregnancies in those with ME/CFS.


Current evidence on ME/CFS in pregnancy is limited and findings inconclusive. More high-quality research is urgently needed to support the development of evidence-based guidelines on ME/CFS and pregnancy.

Dr Emma Slack

Dr Emma Slack, Research Associate, Population Health Sciences Institute Faculty of Medical Sciences, Newcastle University is the lead researcher.

“We are delighted that our systematic review of the evidence relating to ME/CFS and pregnancy has been published in BMJ Open. The work highlights the huge gap in the evidence relating to ME/CFS and pregnancy, labour and birth. It also shows the impact the disease has on family planning, and raising children, both for the person living with ME/CFS, but also their partners, and often wider support network. It is clear from our findings that much more high-quality research is needed into this important topic.

Dr Emma Slack

The results of the review support our current work, funded by the ME Association, which aims to begin to identify key research questions for people with ME/CFS, and their partners, around pregnancy, including thinking about planning a family and raising children. The pilot study started in July 2023 and will take two years to complete.

“We have established a research support group, which includes people with ME/CFS, their partners and relevant healthcare professionals, who are helping us to decide which questions are most important to ask in this pilot study. We are working on study documents, and once they are ready, and ethical approval is in place, we will launch the questionnaire and invite people to take part.

“We hope that the findings from this pilot study will inform future research which will provide robust evidence to:

  • Support people with ME/CFS, and their partners, to make informed decisions around family planning, pregnancy, labour, birth, and raising children.
  • Inform the development of guidelines to better support health care professionals in practice.”

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