During pregnancy, a woman’s blood volume increases 30-50% to support the growing baby. This increase puts some extra stress on the heart. That added stress increases with labor and delivery and doesn’t go away for a few weeks after birth. Women with existing heart conditions are at a much higher risk during pregnancy. Depending on the situation, women may need significant treatment for a heart condition, such as heart surgery, before attempting to get pregnant.
Improving heart health
Many women think that being young is enough protection from heart disease. This is simply not the case. Focusing on good health habits is crucial to preventing coronary artery disease and other heart problems. What practices should women focus on?
Watch what you eat
Eating lots of fruits and vegetables, choosing whole grains, and lean proteins are all excellent takeaways for improving diet. When considering heart health, also be aware of sodium and trans fat intake. Additionally, the CDC recommends that women limit alcohol intake to 1 drink daily, as excess alcohol can increase blood pressure. When trying to get pregnant, women should do away with alcohol altogether.
Exercise increases endorphins, helps people manage weight, and improves blood sugar and blood cholesterol. Choose activities that increase the heart rate, like brisk walking, bicycling, or aerobics workouts. Experts recommend getting at least 2 hours and 30 minutes of cardiovascular activity per week. Many people break up this guideline by aiming for 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week.
Quit bad habits
One very black-and-white health habit is smoking. Smoking leads to lung conditions as well as increases the risk of heart disease. For people who smoke, quitting cold turkey can be incredibly challenging. Consider joining a support group or asking the doctor for recommendations to break the habit.
Know your weight
Being overweight or obese can put undue strain on the heart and increase the risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. The good news is that people who follow a healthy diet and exercise regularly typically can maintain a healthy weight and lower risk for cardiovascular disease.
Before you get pregnant
Any woman who wants to get pregnant should start by checking with a physician. If there are any risks for heart health, a healthcare provider can help the woman work to optimize heart health before getting pregnant. For more information, schedule an appointment with an OB/GYN.