Your body goes through many changes when you’re expecting a baby. From weight gain to back pain, discomfort can go hand in hand with the excitement and joy you feel as you wait to meet your baby.
Because pregnancy can also impact your heart, it’s important to consider your cardiovascular health along the way. Learn what happens to your heart during and after giving birth, and how to prevent heart complications associated with pregnancy with expert advice from Michael Weiss, MD, an AdventHealth OB/GYN who’s been caring for women and babies for nearly 20 years.
How Pregnancy Affects Your Heart
Pregnancy naturally causes your heart and circulatory system to work a bit harder.
Dr. Weiss explains, “During pregnancy, your blood volume increases by 30 to 50% to nourish your growing baby. Your heart pumps more blood each minute, so your heart rate increases by 10 to 15 beats per minute, too.”
Heart Risks to Know
“Make sure you talk to your OB/GYN about your health history and family history so they have a clear picture of your health — and can help you manage any risk factors,” says. Dr. Weiss.
Pregnancy-related heart risks depend on factors like if you have a pre-existing heart condition, and the severity and type of any heart condition developed during pregnancy. Here are some examples:
- Congenital heart defect: If you were born with a heart problem, your baby has a greater risk of developing one, too. You might also be at risk for heart problems occurring during pregnancy and of premature birth.
- Congestive heart failure: As blood volume increases, congestive heart failure can worsen.
- Heart rhythm issues: Minor abnormalities in heart rhythm are common during pregnancy. They're not usually cause for concern. If you need treatment for an arrhythmia, you'll likely be given medication, the same as you would before you were pregnant.
- Heart valve issues: Having an artificial heart valve, scarring or malformation of your valves can increase your risk of complications during pregnancy. If your valves aren't working properly, you might have trouble tolerating the increased blood flow that occurs during pregnancy.
Be sure to let your health care provider know if you have any of these symptoms so you and your baby can get care during your pregnancy and after your baby’s arrival:
- Bloody cough at night
- Heart palpitations, rapid heart rate or irregular pulse
- Shortness of breath with exertion or at rest
If you’re experiencing chest pain or difficulty breathing during your pregnancy, call 911 right away.
What Happens to Your Heart During and After Giving Birth?
Labor and delivery add to your heart's workload. “During labor — particularly when you push — you'll have abrupt changes in blood flow and pressure. It takes several weeks after delivery for the stress on the heart to return to the levels they were before you became pregnant,” says Dr. Weiss.
How to Prevent Heart Complications
Taking good care of yourself is the best way to avoid complications and keep you and your baby healthy. Follow these tips from Dr. Weiss:
- Get plenty of rest: Take a daily nap and avoid overly strenuous physical activities.
- Keep your prenatal appointments: Visit your health care provider regularly throughout your pregnancy.
- Know what's off-limits: Avoid smoking, alcohol and caffeine.
- Manage anxiety: Ask questions about your progress and find out what to expect during labor and delivery. Knowing what's happening can help you feel more at ease.
- Monitor weight gain: Gaining an appropriate amount of weight supports your baby's growth and development. Gaining too much weight places additional stress on your heart, though.
- Take your medication as prescribed: Your health care provider will prescribe the safest medication at the most appropriate dose.
Mother and Baby Care From the Heart
“I believe in ensuring each patient feels heard and comfortable so she can have the best, most personalized health care experience,” says Dr. Weiss.
No matter what your journey to motherhood holds, we’re here to make it a well-guided one, with labor and delivery units that feel like home and a team of OB/GYN experts who help you feel ready to take on anything.
We know the changes you’re experiencing are not just physical and that they affect your heart, mind and spirit too. At every step of your pregnancy, we’ll be there to support you. Learn more about our exceptional mother and baby care.