During pregnancy, the heart muscle really has to up its game. In fact, the entire cardiovascular system undergoes a number of changes that pave the way for the healthy development of a fetus. GE Healthcare explains that both heart rate and cardiac output (the amount of blood pumped per minute by the heart) will increase during gestation, the former up to 20% by the time the third trimester rolls around and the latter by up to 50% starting as early as the first trimester. The amount of blood circulating throughout the cardiovascular system will also rise significantly, although blood pressure and vascular resistance will decrease.
With all the above changes and new demands on a pregnant person’s body, it’s understandable that complications can arise. The Cleveland Clinic points out that cardiovascular issues top the list of pregnancy complications, and these can either be due to prior conditions or those that are related specifically to pregnancy. High blood pressure and gestational diabetes are two examples of conditions that develop during pregnancy and can prove dangerous for both the pregnant individual and the baby if not treated properly. Common signs that you may need to get checked out for a heart problem are the inability to catch your breath even when lying down, waking up from shortness of breath, chest palpitations, elevated heart rate, and blurred vision.
Fortunately, there are ways you can protect your heart health while pregnant to avoid unfavorable outcomes.
It all comes down to making lifestyle changes
Since cardiovascular disease is now the leading cause of death for both pregnant and postpartum individuals (per the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists), it’s more important than ever to make changes that will benefit heart health during this time. Dr. Michelle Albert, of the American Heart Association (AHA), spoke with U.S. News & World Report about how people can maintain a healthy heart while pregnant. "The role of a healthy lifestyle during pregnancy cannot be emphasized enough," she stated, adding, "Healthy diet, moderate exercise including walking, smoking cessation and other healthy behaviors are important tools for a healthy pregnancy for both mother and child."
UPMC HealthBeat expands on how to incorporate a heart-healthy diet into pregnancy. During this time, it’s important to minimize sodium and saturated fats while increasing the number of fruits and veggies you consume on a daily basis. Lean meats, beans, and whole grains are also great choices. When it comes to exercise, March of Dimes states that pregnant individuals should shoot for 2.5 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week.
Not only can taking care of your heart during pregnancy ensure that you and your baby stay safe and healthy, but a 2019 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found that focusing on heart health from the very beginning of pregnancy is associated with better long-term cardiovascular outcomes. Researchers specifically found that 10 years after pregnancy, subjects showed greater overall cardiovascular health.
Source: Health Digest