Most births happen without incident, but sometimes excessive bleeding and high blood pressure can occur. These are the two leading preventable causes of childbirth harm to moms.
Make sure to pay attention to your blood pressure readings leading up to your due date. The changes that happen to a woman’s body during pregnancy put her at greater risk of developing high blood pressure (also called hypertension). It can occur before, during and after you deliver your baby.
High blood pressure during pregnancy is known as preeclampsia. It usually develops after 20 weeks gestation, often in the third trimester. You may also have protein in your urine.
Preeclampsia can lead to eclampsia, a dangerous condition that can cause seizures during pregnancy. Fortunately eclampsia is relatively rare, affecting about 1 in 200 women with preeclampsia.
The symptoms of preeclampsia and eclampsia typically disappear within days of giving birth. However, some women continue to be affected up to 6 weeks after delivery.
If you are diagnosed with preeclampsia or eclampsia, your doctor may prescribe medication to lower your blood pressure, protect your organs and prevent seizures.
Know these preeclampsia warning signs:
- High blood pressure during pregnancy (140/90 or greater) may be a sign that preeclampsia is developing
- Know what your blood pressure was at the start of pregnancy — particularly if it is normally low
If you have any of the symptoms below during pregnancy, call your OBGYN provider:
- Swelling of the face or hands
- A headache that won’t go away, even after taking medication
- Blurry vision
- Seeing spots or flashing lights
- Difficulty breathing
- Sudden nausea or vomiting after the second trimester
- Pain in the upper-right belly that feels like indigestion
A systolic blood pressure (the first number) of 160 or higher, or a diastolic blood pressure (second number) of 110 or higher during pregnancy, is dangerous — and needs urgent treatment.
Remember: Many women who get preeclampsia do not have clear risk factors. Talk with your provider right away if you have any of the warning signs listed above.
Here are some helpful tips for managing hypertension during pregnancy:
- Go to all scheduled doctor’s appointments. Your provider will check your blood pressure and may order other tests.
- Rest as directed. Your provider may tell you to rest more often if you have mild symptoms of preeclampsia.
- Check your blood pressure as directed if you have chronic hypertension. Sit and rest for 5 minutes before you take your BP. Extend your arm and support it on a flat surface. Your arm should be at the same level as your heart. Follow the directions that came with your blood pressure monitor. Take your BP as often as directed. Keep a record of your BP readings and bring it with you to your follow up visits.
Tammy Baer, RN
Clinical Education Specialist for Labor & Delivery, Antepartum and the OB Emergency Department at Huntsville Hospital for Women & Children