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Maintain your heart health as you prepare for baby’s birth

By The Health News Team | February 9, 2023
Woman holding pregnant belly

When pregnant, most people focus on the health of their growing infant. Ultrasounds are performed, blood is tested, and growing bellies are measured. But while pregnant women are determined to ensure the health of their coming little one, they often forget to focus on their own health.

According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease (CVD) — also known as heart disease — during pregnancy can lead to a higher risk of CVD after delivery and can even affect the health of the infant. What’s more, CVD is the leading cause of maternal death, especially among certain populations.

Heart disease risk factors during pregnancy

Dr. Joanna Adamczak, chief medical officer of Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns, says there are four primary maternal heart disease risk factors:

“Women age 40 and older are at 65% greater risk of maternal death than women ages 25 to 39,” Dr. Adamczak says. “Additionally, Black and Native American women are at far greater risk than white, Hispanic, Asian American and Pacific Islander women.”

Since 1993, high blood pressure rates during pregnancy have soared among women delivering babies in the U.S., says Dr. Adamczak. And women with severe obesity (a body mass index, or BMI, of 40 or over) could account for up to one-third of pregnancy-related deaths in the U.S.

How pregnancy affects your heart health

“Pregnancy results in multiple changes to your body,” Dr. Adamczak says. “It’s like nature’s stress test on the heart. There is increased blood volume and flow, your heart has to work harder, blood pressure and glucose levels can spike, and then labor and delivery add to your heart’s workload.”

Complications during pregnancy, such as preeclampsia, which is high blood pressure during pregnancy, and gestational diabetes, a form of diabetes that develops in pregnant women, both increase the likelihood of heart disease during — and after — pregnancy. They can also affect the growth and future health of your baby.

Protect your heart health during and after pregnancy

This is why it is so important to guard your heart health during pregnancy, Dr. Adamczak says. She recommends these three tips to help your heart:

  1. Make sure your primary care doctor knows if you had pregnancy complications during past pregnancies.

  2. Know your risk for heart disease now and as you age.

  3. Practice healthy habits before, during and after pregnancy. These include:

    • Be physically active.

    • Maintain a healthy and balanced diet.

    • Stop smoking and vaping, and avoid secondhand smoke.

    • Manage stress.

    • Get enough sleep.

    • Monitor any weight gain.

    • Monitor your mental well-being and seek support when needed.

“It’s important to maintain your health after you deliver,” Dr. Adamczak says. “Moms often forget to take care of themselves when caring for a newborn. Try to lose the weight you gained during your pregnancy, but give yourself up to 12 months after delivery to do it. Ask for help when you need it, rest often and connect with other moms for support and friendship.”

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