All mothers, especially new mothers-to-be, should pay serious attention to their health before, during, and after pregnancy. The changes that your body goes through during pregnancy and after childbirth may give rise to health complications. One such condition is postpartum preeclampsia.
What is Postpartum Preeclampsia?
The word "Postpartum" means the period immediately following childbirth. "Preeclampsia" is a medical condition linked to high blood pressure associated with vital organ damage, primarily the liver and kidneys. Preeclampsia can begin as early as 20 weeks of pregnancy and can affect all women regardless of blood pressure history. This means that you could have good health with normal blood pressure and still develop the condition.
Postpartum preeclampsia is a rare condition characterized by high blood pressure and high protein levels in your urine shortly after childbirth. On the other hand, preeclampsia is a similar condition that develops during your pregnancy and clears up at childbirth. The first 6 weeks after childbirth is the critical period when postpartum preeclampsia manifests itself, initially showing symptoms that may result in seizures. The condition can be deadly if it is not identified and promptly treated.
Most cases show noticeable symptoms of the condition within 48 hours after childbirth, but symptoms can surface any time in the first 6 weeks or even afterward in some cases.
Cause and Symptoms
The cause of postpartum preeclampsia is unknown at this time. However, if you notice any of the symptoms listed below, it is imperative to get immediate medical attention as the condition develops rather quickly, and the onset of a seizure can result in brain damage or death.
- High blood pressure, usually 140/90 or higher (test required)
- Severe headaches
- Problems with your vision: light sensitivity, blurred vision, temporary loss of vision
- Abdominal pains on the right side just under your ribs
- Below average urination
- Excess protein in your urine (test required)
- Swelling of hands, feet, face, or limbs
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid weight gain
- Shortness of breath
- Stomach pains
If you've had a seizure, a brain scan will be necessary to determine how severe the seizure was. Bloodwork will also be done to check the function and possible damage to the liver and kidneys.
Who is at risk?
Because the cause is unknown at this time, it is fair to assume that all pregnant women are at risk of developing postpartum preeclampsia. However, higher risk has been noted in the following:
- High blood pressure (hypertension) during pregnancy, especially after the first 20 weeks
- High blood pressure before pregnancy
- A family history of Postpartum Preeclampsia
- Young mothers under the age of 20
- Older mothers above the age of 40
- Having twins or more babies.
- Diabetes type 1 and 2
If left untreated, postpartum preeclampsia can lead to severe complications that include permanent damage to the brain, kidneys, and liver. It can also lead to HELLP syndrome, a condition that destroys red blood cells in the body.
Complications from the condition can lead to death, so it's in your best interest to note the symptoms and have regular check-ups for yourself and your baby. Don't be afraid to speak to your doctor or seek immediate medical attention if you feel or notice any adverse change in your health.
Fortunately, if detected early, before the onset of a seizure, treatment can be very successful. The treatment will include:
- Blood pressure medication
- Anti-seizure medicine
- Blood thinner or anti-coagulant medication to reduce blood clots developing
- Diet adjustments. A change in diet may be recommended
It is important to let your doctor know if you are breastfeeding so it can be taken into account. You will be advised on the effect of the medication on your milk supply and infant.
A poor diet can contribute to developing postpartum preeclampsia. The recommended diet for the condition is very similar to the diet recommended for adults suffering from hypertension (high blood pressure).
Whole grains, fruit, and vegetables must be included in your daily meal plan, but be sure to limit sodium (salt) in your diet. A healthy diet is important to both mother and child as it helps regulate your weight and improves the quality of your breastmilk.
Regular nutrient-rich meals and snacks are a must to maintain your health, which is vital to your post-birth recovery. It is also necessary to take in enough liquids, preferably water, as breastfeeding increases your body's liquid demands. Pay attention to balancing your diet each day, and include fruits, whole grains, vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats, and calcium-rich foods. Vitamin D and iron are important, too, especially directly after childbirth. Blood loss during childbirth may cause an iron deficiency.
You should eliminate processed foods that contain high levels of saturated fat, sugar, and salt in your diet. That means cutting out fast foods that are usually fried, cookies, cakes, and other sweet delights. For details of the postpartum preeclampsia diet, go here.
Everything you eat and drink will affect your breastmilk's overall quality, which will ensure the good health of your baby.
Don't try to lose too much pregnancy weight too fast because it will only lead to poor health. The optimum targeted pregnancy weight loss should be about 4-5 pounds a month. Besides a healthy diet, you will need to begin exercising, starting with light exercises like walking. As your recovery progresses, you can increase your range of activities to include yoga and aerobics.
Postpartum preeclampsia is a serious condition that all mothers should be aware of. Neglecting your own health needs is a very common error most mothers make, and, in some cases, it is to their and their infant's detriment. Your health as the mother of a new life is way more valuable than you think. You are your little one's lifeline, and being responsible for your health is vital to all those around you.
Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Nadia Rumbolt
Nadia Rumbolt is a mom of many trades, including creative writing, blogging, van life, minimalism, veganism, the beach, nature, and the occult.