With all the overwhelming love you already feel for your new child, you may feel like your heart is working overtime. As it turns out, you couldn’t be more right: Your heart is now pumping 30-50% more blood than normal to nourish your baby. But many women find that the added stress of pregnancy puts them at risk for heart complications they may not have encountered before.
Even if you’ve never struggled with hypertension (high blood pressure) before, you may find yourself facing it during and following your pregnancy. Those extra pregnancy pounds can add stress to the heart, causing your blood pressure to go up. This is especially true for women who are overweight before conceiving or who gain more than the recommended amount or weight during pregnancy. This rise in blood pressure can greatly increase the risk of many serious complications, from preeclampsia to stroke. Worse still, recent studies have shown that many of these women take antihypertensive medicines during their pregnancy, which can be dangerous for the baby. While there have not been enough studies to be conclusive, the results so far indicate that medicine for high blood pressure can be very damaging to a developing fetus, particularly if taken within the first trimester.
You can give your heart a hand by maintaining a healthy weight and diet throughout your pregnancy. Eat foods that are low in fats, salts and triglycerides, which can have a more direct impact on your health than cholesterol, and high in omega-3s and LDLs. Nuts and plant-based oils (such as olive oil) are great options, as they can help clean out the gunk in your cardiovascular system. Lowering your stress level is another way to let your heart relax a little; try yoga, meditation or a soothing bath. Make sure to get plenty of sleep, and of course, stay away from cigarette smoke. But the best way to improve your heart health is by exercising. Thirty minutes of aerobic exercise a day can strengthen your heart and keep you at a healthy weight that’s easier for your heart to maintain.
In fact, working out may have more direct benefits for you and your baby than you think. Research now indicates that when you exercise, your baby does too, meaning that his heart and lungs grow stronger just as yours do. Pumping up will give your baby his best possible start to life, and you your best possible pregnancy—two great reasons to love your heart!