Heart Health and Pregnancy
Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S., so it is essential that we all understand how to keep our hearts healthy. But for women, pregnancy adds an additional layer to this. Let’s talk about how to keep your heart healthy before and during pregnancy.
How does pregnancy affect the heart?
Pregnancy causes stress to your heart and circulatory system. During pregnancy, your blood volume increases by almost 50 percent to support your growing baby, causing your heart to pump more blood and increasing your heart rate. You’ll want your heart to be
The birth of your baby will add to your heart's workload, too. During labor and delivery— especially during pushing—you'll have abrupt changes in blood flow and pressure. After delivery, it will be several weeks before the stresses on your heart return to your normal pre-pregnancy levels.
What can I do during pregnancy to support a healthy heart?
If you know you have an existing heart problem such as high blood pressure, heart disease, or heart defects, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor before trying to get pregnant. Your medical provider can help you determine whether a pregnancy would be safe for you, and help you make a plan to lower your risks.
The healthier you are before pregnancy, the higher your chances for a smooth pregnancy. Before, during, and after pregnancy, the following are things you can do to help your heart be as healthy as possible.
- Eat a nutritious diet with lots of fruits and vegetables.
- Exercise regularly to get your heart pumping
- Drink enough water to keep you hydrated.
- Maintain a healthy weight. (Talk with your doctor about what a healthy weight for you might be.)
- Make sure you’re getting enough sleep.
- Reduce stress. Manage your stress in healthy ways, and seek help if this is hard for you.
- Don’t smoke or vape. If you already do, talk with your doctor about how to quit safely.
- Practice mindfulness. Clear your mind, relax, use your senses, and slow down when you can.
- See your doctor regularly, especially as your pregnancy progresses.
How do I know if I’m having a heart problem?
Some symptoms can indicate a possible heart problem. The following are warning signs that you need to discuss with your doctor.
- Significant and sudden shortness of breath. Breathlessness that happens gradually with activity is normal. But sudden, unexplained shortness of breath that occurs at rest could signal a possible problem with the heart.
- Rapid heartbeat. A racing heart could indicate a heart rhythm problem, especially when it increases suddenly without a clear cause.
- Chest discomfort or pain. Unexplained pain, discomfort, or numbness in your chest, arm, neck or jaw can be a warning sign of a heart problem. If the pain is sudden and persistent, call 9-1-1 immediately.
Remember, many pregnant women will experience symptoms such as fatigue and shortness of breath that are usually harmless and not a cause for concern. When in doubt, call your doctor and discuss what you’re experiencing.
Before, during, and after pregnancy, all of us should do our best to keep our hearts as healthy as possible.