Your heart beats around 100,000 times a day and distributes approximately 2,000 gallons of blood throughout your body in that time. When a woman is pregnant, the heart has to work harder to pump significantly more blood and provide support for the developing baby. These adjustments aren’t as evident as your expanding belly, but you could find that you’re more fatigued or have trouble breathing as your pregnancy progresses. There’s also a possibility that you’ll feel something like “fluttering” in your chest. Even though you should consult a physician if you experience any of these symptoms, you shouldn’t normally be very concerned about them.
However, some alterations or illnesses that affect the heart can be life-threatening. According to recommendations that was published in May 2019 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, cardiovascular disease is now the main cause of death among pregnant women as well as women in the postpartum period (ACOG).
If you are pregnant and want to know what is normal and what you should be concerned about, as well as what you can do to safeguard your health, you should learn how pregnancy affects your heart.
How carrying a child impacts a woman’s heart
While you are carrying a child, your heart pumps more blood to your uterus than it normally would. This ensures that your unborn child gets the adequate amounts of oxygen and nutrients that are necessary for healthy growth and development.
According to Jade Pizarro, MD, an OBGYN at Orange Park Medical Center in Jacksonville, Florida, who specialises in gynaecological and obstetrical care, “During pregnancy, a woman’s blood volume can rise by up to roughly 50 percent, so her heart needs to work that much harder to pump.” “The heart must supply blood to a developing uterus, placenta, and foetus, in addition to providing blood to expanding breasts and other regions of the body that change during pregnancy,”
In this regard, the opinions of other knowledgeable people are unanimous. “Pregnancy is a natural stress test…the cardiovascular system must undergo major changes to its structure to sustain tremendous increases in blood volume,” writes James Martin, MD, chair of the Pregnancy and Heart Disease Task Force, in a statement issued by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) in May of this year (2019).
You should be prepared for the following further changes when the amount of blood in your body continues to rise:
Your cardiac output, which refers to the amount of blood that is pumped out of your heart each minute, will increase by between 30 and 50 percent.
Your resting heart rate may climb all the way up to 90 beats per minute from its current rate of approximately 70 beats per minute.
It’s possible that your growing uterus is affecting how quickly blood travels from your lower body and pelvic region to your heart.
As your pregnancy progresses during the second trimester, hormonal changes and the fact that more blood is flowing to your uterus may both contribute to a minor decrease in your blood pressure. It will take around six weeks after the delivery for your heart function to restore to where it was before you became pregnant.
What symptoms to look out for
During pregnancy, your heart will be working harder than usual, and you may experience certain symptoms as a result, including the following:
- Uneasy and shallow breaths
- Experiencing symptoms of fainting or lightheadedness
In addition, you run the risk of developing an irregular heartbeat or experiencing heart palpitations, which are similar to the feeling you get when your heart skips a beat. This feeling of fluttering can be brought on by a number of various changes that occur during pregnancy, including changes in hormone levels.
A heart murmur, often known as an abnormal “swishing sound” between heartbeats, is something that develops in almost all pregnant women, accounting for over 90 percent of all cases. This might happen when there is an increase in the volume of blood that is moving through the heart.
These shifts aren’t typically cause for alarm, but it’s important to discuss any new or worsening symptoms with your physician, particularly if you notice them when you’re at rest. In certain circumstances, they could serve as an early indicator of a condition that has to be treated.
Complications that could be related to the heart
Some women are unaware that they have a heart-related condition until they get pregnant, at which point the additional strain on their heart makes the condition significantly worse. Others may be affected by peripartum cardiomyopathy, a condition in which a weakening of the heart muscle occurs during pregnancy. This condition accounts for 23 percent of deaths that occur in the late postpartum period.
It is crucial to contact your doctor on a regular basis and share your medical history with him or her before getting pregnant. Doing so will allow you to detect any heart-related conditions that may arise throughout your pregnancy. In addition, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) now recommends that all pregnant women and postpartum women undergo testing for cardiovascular disease. If you have been diagnosed with a cardiac issue, you and your doctor should keep a close eye on it both before you become pregnant and while you are carrying the baby.
While it’s true that many women who have cardiac disorders go on to have children who are perfectly healthy, it’s also true that pregnancy can make some of these difficulties worse and lead to complications. Pregnancy has been linked to an increased risk of several heart-related diseases, including the following:
Women who have high blood pressure before or during pregnancy have an increased risk for a problem called preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a complication that can cause the baby to be born with an abnormally large head. This is a dangerous disorder that can be identified by sudden and unexpected weight gain, elevated blood pressure, and the presence of protein in the urine. Preeclampsia can result in damage to the kidneys and the liver, and it also raises the chance of developing heart disease in later life. In addition to this, there is an increased likelihood of placental abruption, which refers to the separation of the placenta from the wall of the uterus, premature birth, low birth weight, or delivery via caesarean section.
Your doctor will check your numbers carefully if you have high blood pressure and may ask you to wear a heart monitor while you are at home. In addition, your symptoms will be evaluated for indicators of preeclampsia. Some of these symptoms include headache, nausea, shortness of breath, dizziness, and blurred vision.
Congenital heart defects are disorders with the heart that occur before birth and are typically related to genetics or environmental factors. These heart conditions are referred to as birth defects. These abnormalities, which may impact the walls or valves of the heart as well as the arteries and veins located close to the heart, have the potential to impede the blood’s normal flow. Women who already have a congenital heart problem may be at a larger risk of having a kid with the same condition if they have children. Ultrasounds can detect and monitor the development of such birth problems during a pregnancy. Additionally, certain conditions can be treated while the mother is still pregnant. A cardiologist can also assist you anticipate any problems you may have during pregnancy before you become pregnant. They can also provide genetic counselling to help you determine the likelihood that your kid will be born with the condition.
Pregnant women who have more severe heart conditions run the danger of potentially fatal complications, including but not limited to the following:
- Pulmonary hypertension is defined as having excessive blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries and veins.
- Cardiomyopathy is a condition that causes the heart muscle to become injured and weaker, which in turn inhibits the heart’s ability to pump blood throughout the body. Cardiomyopathy can be fatal.
- Marfan syndrome is a disease that affects the connective tissue and has the potential to weaken the aorta, which is the main artery responsible for supplying blood to the rest of the body.
A chronic ailment that occurs when the heart isn’t pumping as well as it should be, heart failure can be defined as the following:
If you suffer from one of these major disorders, you need to get checked out by your primary care physician so that they can establish whether or not it is safe for you to get pregnant. After that, they will be able to counsel you on all of the available methods of family planning.
Methods to ensure the health of your heart
There are actions you may take that can help you gain control over any preexisting health conditions as well as lower your chance for preventable heart-related diseases. If you follow these actions, you can help ensure that your ticker will continue to be healthy for the next nine months and beyond:
- Prepare yourself. Before trying to have a baby, you should make sure that any heart conditions you have are under control. “Women who have known heart abnormalities should talk with their doctors before to planning pregnancy in order to ensure that their body is able to handle the changes that are involved with pregnancy,” Pizarro says. “This will ensure a healthy pregnancy for both the mother and the unborn child.” She adds that any and all drugs they are currently taking will need to be evaluated to determine whether or not they are safe to take while pregnant.
- Discuss your plans to establish a family with your physician as soon as you make the decision to do so, regardless of the state of your heart. It is possible to prepare your body for carrying a child by making some preparations in advance, such as modifying your medications or doing other preventative health measures. Additionally, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) suggests that women who have a history of heart illness consult a cardiologist prior to attempting to conceive in order to get pre-pregnancy counselling. Notify your obstetrician as soon as possible if you do end up getting pregnant and you haven’t gone over your medical history or treatment options with him or her.
- Pay attention to your bodily cues: During pregnancy, you may experience increased fatigue due to higher levels of certain hormones as well as a faster heart rate. This is especially true during the first trimester, when the placenta and other essential organs are still in the process of development. When you are feeling depleted or fatigued, it is best to take naps or lay down and rest. Taking frequent pauses during your pregnancy may help lower your chance of developing pregnancy-related problems such as preeclampsia.
According to Pizarro, “Rest is important for maintaining regular physical functioning in addition to the additional work that pregnancy places on the body.”
Make getting enough sleep a top priority and remember that maintaining a regular sleep routine is one of the best ways to enhance the quality of sleep you get. If possible, sleep on your left side. This will not only assist relieve strain on the major blood vessels, but it will also enhance blood flow to the placenta.
When pregnant, it can be challenging to get adequate sleep due to a variety of factors, including anxiety, excitement, back pain, many trips to the bathroom, and indigestion. If you find that you have trouble falling or staying asleep at night, you should discuss with your primary care physician some healthy adjustments to your lifestyle that might be of assistance, such as sleeping with a body pillow or reducing the amount of liquids you consume in the hours leading up to bedtime.
It can be challenging to stick to a balanced diet during pregnancy due to nausea and exhaustion, which is important for healthy weight maintenance (especially in the first trimester). Nevertheless, it is critical that you keep your weight at a healthy level throughout your pregnancy. When it comes to the subject of weight gain during pregnancy, the Institute of Medicine has developed precise standards; therefore, you should speak with your physician about what is appropriate for you. During their pregnancies, most women will have a weight gain that ranges from 11 to 40 pounds, depending on their starting weight.
Maintaining a healthy weight throughout pregnancy is important for a number of reasons, including reducing your risk of complications including hypertension and preeclampsia, preventing gestational diabetes, and promoting healthy foetal development.
Consider switching to a diet that is high in various nutrients and maintaining a consistent exercise routine (as long as your doctor has cleared you to workout). If you have concerns about your weight, whether it be gain or loss, talk to your primary care physician. They should go through the particulars with you, such as the kinds of workouts you should incorporate into your programme, how frequently you should perform them, and at what intensity level you should do so.
Make sure you don’t miss any of your prenatal appointments: Your regular visits to your obstetrician or midwife are, without a doubt, one of the most essential components of having a good pregnancy. Pizarro recommends that clients maintain an open and honest relationship with their service providers. “Make sure to keep them up to date on any changes that you observe with your body as well as any worries that you have.” If you do so, they will be able to address any issues immediately, ensuring that you maintain good health during your pregnancy and beyond.
Managing any heart problems you had prior to becoming pregnant, maintaining regular contact with your doctor, and engaging in heart-healthy behaviours are all things that can assist you in maintaining a healthy heart while you are carrying a child. Your heart plays a significant role in the pregnancy process.