Updated: Nov 23, 2022
Reviewed by - Dr. Samatha Tulla, MBBS, MD ( Internal Medicine)
Pregnancy can cause certain stress on the heart, women who have heart conditions have to be monitored throughout pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period, but many women who had heart conditions did deliver healthy babies, and also had a healthy pregnancies and childbirth.
It is always good to have basic knowledge and know what lies ahead so that you can plan better. And here is what you need to know if you have a heart condition.
What happens during pregnancy?
Pregnancy changes many things in a woman’s body to accommodate the human growing inside. Every cell in the body is working towards it, to set up an ideal environment for the temporary guest.
The blood volume increases by 30 - 50%, this adds an extra load on the heart, and the heart has to work hard to keep the blood flowing. Imagine yourself riding triples on a two-wheeler uphill (quite a stress I say!). But a healthy heart is capable of withstanding this stress and does its work remarkably.
Along with the blood volume, there is a huge hormonal change happening that can cause some distress in some women emotionally. Stress or anxiety can increase the heart rate, and cause added pressure.
This can lead to altering the blood pressure in the heart. Hence, on every visit to the doctor, your blood pressure is monitored for any changes. Blood pressure is crucial during the pregnancy journey.
Again the two-wheeler example, if you are adding extra load on the vehicle, then the stress increases, and if the engine has an underlying condition then it becomes even more difficult to manage the stress. The engine has to be maintained in a good condition, and even the wheels too!
Either high or low, blood pressure has to be treated, these conditions are completely treatable and women with altering blood pressure are continuously monitored and medicated throughout their journey if required.
Why is blood pressure so important during pregnancy?
Pregnant women are not advised to travel to high altitudes(imagine the two-wheeler example), the reason being, there is already an extra load on the heart, and high altitudes can cause breathing issues in some women, and it alters blood pressure levels.
You have to remember that oxygen has to be constantly supplied to the baby as well. Though the baby is not breathing through the lungs yet, oxygen is needed for the baby too. Oxygen levels can be low in high altitudes and cause discomfort in breathing in the mother, and this, in turn, can affect the baby as well.
Some women have difficulty climbing stairs, they breathe heavily, which is okay but, this has to settle down within a couple of minutes, if it has not then care needs to be taken when you are straining your body performing any task.
Women with heart conditions can face issues pushing the baby during labor too. If the heart rate is not within a certain range either low or high, your healthcare provider might need to take immediate action to handle the situation.
During labor, your blood pressure is constantly monitored, because when you are asked to push the baby(imagine pushing an average 3kg rock uphill), a lot of stress is created in the body, sometimes you tend to hold your breath while pushing, and this can create fluctuations in the blood pressure for some women.
What you can do to maintain a healthy heart?
You should know that even if you have genetic heart conditions(unless something that cannot be cured), with a healthy lifestyle you can find a balance.
Lifestyle is nothing but the way you live your life every single day. The routine, the style, the habits, the food, the emotions, all of this accumulated form the lifestyle, and here are some tips to tweak your lifestyle a bit, if not completely.
The food we eat plays a very important role. What we eat is what we are. What kind of fuel you give your body, you get results according to that. So, be conscious of what you eat.
Physical activity - we are no more working on fields, most of us are sitting and only our fingers are moving here and there. This is not enough, our entire body has to move and be active. Do something about it. You can check 10 exercises you can safely do during your pregnancy.
Emotional stress - our mind is always thinking about something, and most of the time those things don’t really matter or add any value to us. But still, we keep thinking and living in the mind. Let’s make it a habit to declutter our thoughts every now and then, this can relax you a lot!
If you know that you have a heart condition, then you have to tell your healthcare provider about it. Else, they may not know and it is very crucial for them to know especially during your pregnancy journey.
If you have a heart condition, take your medications as prescribed, nothing more, nothing less. If you have any discomfort at any time either during pregnancy or the postpartum period, you have to reach out to a health care provider* immediately.
*Health care provider is your Obstetrician/Gynaecologist.
Consultant Physician & Diabetologist.
Lifestyle Medicine specialist. Fellowship in diabetes mellitus.
How do you feel when you take stairs?