After having a baby, it’s normal to be laser-focused on your little one’s health.
These conditions, called adverse pregnancy outcomes (APOs), are associated with an increased risk of developing heart disease, according to the American Heart Association (AHA):
- Preeclampsia – high blood pressure during pregnancy coupled with signs of damage to the liver, kidneys or another vital organ
- Gestational diabetes – the onset of type 2 diabetes during pregnancy
- Pre-term birth – delivery before 37 weeks
- Placental abruption – separation of the placenta from the uterus before childbirth
- Stillbirth – death of a baby prior to delivery
“These conditions occur in about 10-20% of pregnancies and are associated with a two- to four-fold risk of future heart disease,” said Geetanjali Dang, MD, a cardiologist with Baptist Heart Specialists. “The risk increases with the severity of the condition, and if you’ve had more than one complicated pregnancy.”
Women with an APO who are of advanced maternal age (35 and older) have a higher risk of developing heart-related conditions.
Dr. Dang explained the correlation between APOs and heart disease is because the vascular abnormalities present with an APO also can lead to common, difficult-to-treat forms of heart disease in women as they age.
Fortunately, early intervention after delivery can help significantly.
“Interrupting this process in the early phases and soon after recovery from an APO may be key to preventing diastolic heart failure, which is associated with a poor prognosis and lacks effective treatment options,” said Dr. Dang.
If you experienced an APO, Dr. Dang recommends following up with a primary care physician or cardiologist for an initial screening within three months of delivery. Your physician will create a care plan based on your current symptoms and risk factors.
A heart-healthy lifestyle will be key: eating a balanced diet, exercising, getting enough sleep, not smoking, and making sure your numbers are in a good zone. Your numbers refer to cholesterol, blood pressure, weight and blood glucose levels.
According to Dr. Dang, the following eating plan is most effective for lowering your heart disease risk:
- Eat primarily vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, whole grains and fish.
- Reduce saturated fats (those typically solid at room temperature) to no more than 6% of daily calories. Olive oil is a good substitute.
- Lower cholesterol (no more than 300 milligrams a day) and sodium (no more than 1,500 milligrams a day) intake.
- Minimize consumption of processed meats, refined carbohydrates and sweetened beverages.
The findings from the AHA also show that breastfeeding may lower your risk of heart disease because lactating women usually have more favorable health indicators, such as body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Your best bet is to adopt healthy eating and exercise habits at least three years before pregnancy to lower your risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes.
“When you consider that cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 cause of death in women, it pays to be attuned to your heart health at any stage of life,” Dr. Dang said.
A healthy lifestyle before pregnancy is key to continued health after delivery. A primary care physician can help guide you along the way. To find one near you, call 904.202.4YOU (4968) or fill out the appointment request form. For more information on cardiology services, call Baptist Heart Specialists at 904.720.0799.