According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death for women and men in the United States. For women, heart disease is also a leading cause of pregnancy-related deaths. Pregnancy-related death is when a woman dies during pregnancy or within 1 year after the end of her pregnancy from health problems related to pregnancy.
Heart disease includes conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels. They often affect the heart muscle or involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack or stroke. There are certain things that increase the risk for heart disease. Including:
- High blood pressure
- Having extra weight (being affected by overweight or obesity)
- Not getting enough physical activity
Heart health is important for all of us, but it’s especially important if you’re pregnant or thinking about getting pregnant. That’s why keeping healthy habits at every stage of life is so important.
Steps for a healthy heart and a healthy pregnancy
One of the best things you can do before getting pregnant is to get a preconception checkup. At your preconception checkup, your provider checks your overall health to make sure your body is ready for pregnancy. This includes:
- Checking your blood pressure
- Going over habits that can affect your health, such as smoking and using harmful drugs
- Reviewing your family health history
Take this time to talk to your provider about what a healthy weight range for you is, since extra weight during pregnancy can increase your risk of pregnancy complications. Even if you’ve already had a baby, it’s important you get a preconception checkup. Your health may have changed since you were last pregnant.
The link between heart health and pregnancy complications
During pregnancy, your heart has a lot more to do and this extra stress can be a concern. If you have a condition related to your heart, such as high blood pressure or congenital heart disease, you may be worried about how it could affect a pregnancy.
Uncontrolled high blood pressure can put more stress on your heart and kidneys. This can lead to heart disease, kidney disease and stroke. It can also cause preeclampsia and premature birth during pregnancy. For some women, it can even lead to pregnancy-related death. Managing your blood pressure can help you have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.
If you have a congenital heart disease, the best thing you can do is to talk to both your cardiologist and obstetrician before you get pregnant. Be sure to ask your provider about any medications you are currently taking. Many heart conditions require medications to be controlled and your provider can help you choose one that’s safe for you and your baby.
The good news is that many women with these types of health problems can have a safe pregnancy with minimal risks.
Keeping your heart healthy after pregnancy and beyond
Problems you had during pregnancy, labor and birth that may affect your health after pregnancy. For example, if you gained too much weight during pregnancy it can put you at risk for developing heart related problems over time. If you had gestational diabetes, it makes you more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life—a risk for developing heart disease.
After birth you may lose about 10 pounds, and maybe a little more within the first week. Don’t feel badly if you don’t lose the weight as quickly as you’d like. It takes time for your body and your belly to get back in shape. Staying fit over time is more important than getting in shape right after giving birth. Small changes make a big impact!
Eating healthy and being active every day helps boost your energy level and can make you feel better. And just in case you get pregnant again, or if you’re planning to have another baby sometime in the future, it’s best to be at a healthy weight before your next pregnancy—your baby and your heart will thank you!