In the study, researchers said that women with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) should be given more advice about pregnancy so they can make informed choices about whether to have a family or not

In their paper in the journal Qualitative Health Research, the scientists draw on evidence that women with the disease often decide not to have children, or to restrict the size of their family, because of fears the pregnancy would affect their health or that of their baby.

Although inflammatory bowel disease can cause complications during pregnancy, research shows that one-third of women with the condition will not get worse and another third will see an improvement in their health.

The study, led by the University of Leeds, chronicled the experiences of 22 women who have had children, to plug an information gap about the realities of becoming a mother with IBD.

Professor Anna Madill, a psychologist who supervised the research, said: "It is desperately sad that women are opting to remain childless because they are unable to get an accurate picture of the risks they face."

"The healthcare system needs to make sure that women living with IBD have access to all the facts necessary to make a fully-informed decision."

Inflammatory bowel disease is an umbrella term that refers to severe disorders of the digestive system, including ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, but not irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is a separate condition. IBD causes stomach pains, fever, weight loss and recurring diarrhea and fatigue.

People with the condition have periods of relative stability interspersed with flare-ups which can be extremely debilitating. There is no cure.

One participant said her concern before getting pregnant was that she would pass on the condition to her baby. There is a genetic component to the disease."

"So we saw a geneticist and investigated what the chances were of a child getting Crohn's disease from a mother with Crohn's disease, and that was quite positive, so we decided to go ahead," she added.

A number of the women described the relative ease with which they made the transition to pregnancy and motherhood. One said having inflammatory bowel disease for several years before her pregnancy made her very careful about her diet, so as a mum-to-be it became easy to maintain healthy food choices during her pregnancy.

"I have got used to trying to adapt my life around my illness over the years, and I think that is a beneficial skill for the baby as well because I think people are not prepared for how a massive change it is to your life and then it's about being adaptable. Babies do not do what you want them to do. They have their routine," she said.

Professor Madill said: "One of the main points to emerge from the study is that learning to live with a chronic illness has helped the women prepare for motherhood. These women coped well with becoming parents."