May is Preeclampsia awareness month! This is an important month for me because I had severe preeclampsia with both of my pregnancies. I was at risk for preeclampsia for a few reasons, my mom had severe preeclampsia with my sibling and preeclampsia with me (severe preeclampsia typically means that your blood pressure reaches a level higher than 160/90 and/or there is notable impact on your kidneys and liver functioning). I also have a congenital heart defect which raises my risk.
*This blog post is in partnership with March of Dimes.
Some quick statistics on preeclampsia:
-It affects 5-8% of pregnancies and happens after the 20th week of pregnancy.
-Having chronic conditions such as hypertension, chronic heart disease, and diabetes can put you at risk for developing preeclampsia during pregnancy.
-Preeclampsia can also happen during the postpartum period.
-1 in 7 pregnant women and 1 in 5 pregnant Black women experience hypertensive disorders during their pregnancy.
My Preeclamptic Pregnancies
During my first pregnancy I had no signs of preeclampsia until the end of the pregnancy (around the 32-34 week mark). I began to have some headaches, pitting edema (swelling that indents), and protein in my urine (also known as proteinuria). Because my pregnancy had been healthy up until this point my OB identified this as dehydration since it was the middle of August and my blood pressure was still in the normal range at the office visits. When I went in for my 39 week check up my blood pressure had reached 180/100 and I was immediately sent to Labor and Delivery for an induction. After 50 hours of labor and an emergency c-section my oldest was born. I was also on a magnesium drip throughout the labor and 24 hours after to reduce my risk of seizure. The following days my blood pressure was labile and it took 2 different medications to have it return to normal, I was on those medications at home and it took approximately 16 weeks for me to wean off of them.
I wish I had advocated a bit better for myself and insisted on being monitored more closely. With this knowledge I knew to explore OB’s that were trauma-informed and had more experience with high risk pregnancies, so I chose to switch for my second pregnancy.
My second pregnancy the entire experience felt much more like a partnership, they listened to my concerns and took my mother’s history into consideration and monitored me closely. My preeclampsia symptoms began to return in a similar fashion and although my blood pressure had only spiked once, they diagnosed me with preeclampsia at 32 weeks and began to have me closely monitored with non-stress tests, increased office visits, and moved my scheduled c-section up earlier. I delivered my second baby at 36 weeks (a few days before his scheduled c-section, he just couldn’t wait!) because I contacted my doctor due to early labor and my blood pressure was high. This time I only needed magnesium for 24 hours and my blood pressure stabilized quicker, I was off of the medications by my 12-week appointment. I am grateful that my second delivery was more of a partnership, which is why health care equity is so important during prenatal and postnatal care.
During my first pregnancy, I wish I had known the severity of preeclampsia and how to monitor my symptoms at home. I wish I had a blood pressure cuff at home, because I may have found my blood pressure elevated earlier before it became an emergency situation. I would encourage all pregnant folks (especially those who are at higher risk for preeclampsia or hypertensive disorders during pregnancy) to have an at home blood pressure cuff, or access to a blood pressure cuff. I would also encourage pregnant people to utilize their healthcare providers when they need it. It is better to call for a concern and have it turn out to be nothing, vs. avoiding the situation and having it turn into an emergency. I also wish I had known that your blood pressure may not stabilize immediately after delivery, you may need to continue blood pressure medications at home.
Finally, know the signs of preeclampsia! It could help save you or someone you know:
- Signs and symptoms of preeclampsia include:
- Headache that doesn’t go away
- Changes in vision (blurriness, flashing lights)
- Trouble breathing
- Pain in the upper right belly area or shoulder
- Nausea, vomiting, dizziness
- Swelling in legs, hands, face with or without pitting
- Sudden weight gain (2-5 pounds/week)
For more information, Watch It Starts with Mom Live! to hear from health experts and other moms about what you need to know to ensure the best health outcomes for you and your baby.
Tune in to It Starts With Mom Live! TODAY! May 25 at 3:00 PM ET on March of Dimes Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube.
In case you missed it, watch the first video in the It Starts With Mom series as we chat about mental health, cardiovascular issues, chronic health conditions, how to advocate for yourself, and much more. Go to itstartswithmom.org. (https://www.marchofdimes.org/find-support/it-starts-mom/it-starts-mom-live-event#may11)