There are many things to consider when planning a pregnancy and when it comes to your baby’s health, your heart is an important factor to consider. During pregnancy, the heart has to work a little harder and as a result, pregnancy can often cause or worsen a pre-existing heart condition. Heart disorders often leave the mother and the baby at serious risk and can severely complicate the pregnancy.
Fortunately, heart disease in pregnancy is rare, says Kathrine Lupo, MD, an OB/GYN at Riddle Hospital, part of Main Line Health. However, she says other trends like the number of pregnant women with high blood pressure, are increasing. Therefore, taking the right precautions before and during your pregnancy ultimately enhances the well-being of both you and your child.
Talk to your doctor about your heart history
A consultation with a cardiologist or an obstetrician prior to becoming pregnant is always a good idea. If you have a history of heart disease, high blood pressure, preeclampsia, gestational or non-gestational diabetes, or any other heart condition, you should meet with your cardiologist and obstetrician before, during and after the pregnancy to discuss your options.
“We’ve seen more and more women with higher blood pressures becoming pregnant,” Dr. Lupo says. Certain medication, which may have worked prior to pregnancy, may not be advised during the pregnancy, which is one reason why it’s important for these women to consult their physicians about their pregnancies. Every time you go to your obstetrician they’ll check your blood pressure, and if it becomes too high then they may want to do more tests.
Uncontrolled diabetes can also have an impact on your heart and vascular system so any woman who has a history of diabetes—and not just gestational diabetes—should aim for optimal blood glucose control prior to getting pregnant.
Maintain a heart-healthy diet
Most of the heart-healthy foods that we think about when you are not pregnant are beneficial when you are pregnant. Good fats like avocados, cooked salmon and nuts are great sources of nutrients, Dr. Lupo says. Lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products and whole grains are all part of a healthy diet as well.
“It’s all pretty much common sense stuff,” she says. “If you’re healthy before you get pregnant, you have a better chance of having a healthy pregnancy. You’ll also be able to bounce back quicker after you deliver.”
Additionally, weight gain is a natural part of pregnancy, but if you gain too much weight it increases your risk of having high blood pressure and diabetes, which can impact your overall pregnancy.
“There’s this myth that when you’re pregnant you have to eat for two but that’s not really true,” Dr. Lupo says. “You can’t go wrong with fruits and vegetables. Be sure to avoid anything processed, high in saturated fat or sugar.”
You can and should exercise while pregnant
Exercise during pregnancy is important for a multitude of reasons. It helps you sleep better, increases your energy levels, and it can help reduce backaches and pains. Additionally, exercise can stave off high blood pressure, gestational diabetes and other heart problems that occur in pregnancy.
Dr. Lupo says there’s a misconception that women can’t exercise when they’re pregnant. “I think that myth comes from a fear of having a miscarriage or possibly going into premature labor. Although those things do happen commonly, exercise has not been shown to increase your risk of miscarriage.”
Outside of a few high-impact sports like football, horseback riding or scuba diving, women can and should exercise within their comfort. Dr. Lupo recommends swimming and prenatal yoga, which can help alleviate some of the aches and pains of pregnancy. Swimming is also a refreshing workout in the summer when some pregnant women can feel warmer than usual.
Again, you should consult your physician ahead of time. Everyone has a different exercise capacity at the beginning of pregnancy. In general, brisk walking, light jogging, light weight-lifting – those are all perfectly acceptable exercises to do that can help keep your heart conditioned and help increase your chances of having a healthy pregnancy.