The road to motherhood is different for each of us. Every mother and baby takes their own path through pregnancy, delivery and beyond. Our bodies are able to grow our babies, nourished and protected from the world until, for some unknown reason, labor begins. In the overwhelming majority of pregnancies and deliveries, all goes well. Most moms are worn out, exhausted and wearing their oh-so-soothing ice diaper in the early post-partum period. But within days, they start feeling better, breastfeeding gets easier and moms find their stride.
For a small number of new moms, they don’t start feeling better. Post partum complications are rare but they happen and they can be dangerous. Most of us don’t see our doctor for 6 weeks after birth and complications can set in much earlier. One of the most common birth complications is post partum preeclampsia. Postpartum preeclampsia occurs when you have high blood pressure and excess protein in your urine soon after childbirth. Preeclampsia is a similar condition that develops during pregnancy, and it typically resolves with the birth of the baby. Most cases of postpartum preeclampsia develop within 48 hours of childbirth. However, postpartum preeclampsia sometimes develops up to six weeks or later after childbirth. This is known as late postpartum preeclampsia.
The cause of pre-eclampsia and late postpartum eclampsia is not well understood. One theory is based on an imbalance between the blood supply demands of the uterus, placenta and fetus during pregnancy. This can cause damage to the cells and change the way our blood vessels expand and contract. Our blood pressure and regulation is a delicate balance of fluid regulation (by the kidneys) and blood vessel dilation or relaxation depending on the demands of the body.
Researchers are aware of some factors that place moms at higher risk for post partum preeclampsia:
- High blood pressure during your most recent pregnancy. You’re at increased risk of postpartum preeclampsia if you developed high blood pressure after 20 weeks of pregnancy (gestational hypertension).
- Obesity. The risk of postpartum preeclampsia is higher if you’re obese.
- Having multiples. Having twins, triplets or more increases your risk of preeclampsia.
- Chronic high blood pressure. Having uncontrolled high blood pressure before pregnancy increases your risk of preeclampsia and postpartum preeclampsia.
- Diabetes. Having type 1 or type 2 diabetes increases your risk of preeclampsia and postpartum preeclampsia.
These are risk factors of many pregnancy complications but be aware of the of common symptoms of post partum preeclampsia. New moms that are busy caring for a newborn may not be thinking about their own health, but if you have a headache that won’t go away call your doctor or have your blood pressure taken. If you don’t have a blood pressure cuff at home, you can go to your closest fire department and they will take it there for you. If the bottom number is over 90, you have high blood pressure. For example 150/100. Other symptoms of post partum preeclampsia are: swollen ankles, cough and shortness of breath and changes in vision. Postpartum preeclampsia requires prompt treatment so go the hospital right away. Left untreated, postpartum preeclampsia can cause seizures, fluid in the lungs, damage to liver, lungs and other serious health problems. If you have any risk factors, be sure to have frequent check-ins with your doctor after your baby is born.