May is Preeclampsia Awareness Month

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As some of you may know, I developed preeclampsia somewhere in the neighborhood of 33-34 weeks with Whitlee and we were required to delivery early, via c-section at 34 weeks 2 days. (Read Whitlee’s birth story here) Since May is Preeclampsia awareness month, I wanted to make a post about the disease itself and how it affected our pregnancy, as well as how it will affect any future pregnancies.

In a nutshell, preeclampsia is a condition that occurs only during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Researchers do not yet know the exact cause, but it has been associated with reduced blood flow to the placenta. The placenta can react violently to this situation, and will begin dumping chemical proteins into your system, causing high blood pressure, presence of protein in the urine, swelling, sudden weight gain, headaches, and changes in vision. Severe preeclampsia can be life threatening to both mother and baby and currently the only treatment is delivery. Occasionally the symptoms can be managed to get the baby to a safer gestational point; in our case 34 weeks.

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Common Misconceptions About Preeclampsia

Bed rest can delay the onset of preeclampsia, or make your case progress more slowly.

False. Trials have shown no strong evidence of bed rest benefit. Actually, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, “For women with gestational hypertension or preeclampsia without severe features, it is suggested that strict bed rest *not* be prescribed.”

Only overweight women get preeclampsia.

False, however obesity and excessive weight gain during pregnancy does raise your individual risk, as well as sudden weight gain being a primary symptom. I gained about 12 lbs in two weeks at the end with Whitlee, completely not normal.

If you had preeclampsia once, you’ll always have it with subsequent pregnancies.

Preeclampsia happens mostly in first pregnancies, but not only. If you’ve had it once, you are considered high risk to get it again, but additional factors play into your overall risk.

  • Side note – I recently realized that there is a shaky understanding of our pregnancy and birth with Whitlee. There has been a lot of second hand information, even third hand information, and most people simply know that we had a high risk pregnancy for whatever reason, she was delivered early (most don’t even know how early and assume the worst), and that she was required to stay in the NICU for a while (additionally, most don’t know for how long). They also assume that Whitlee will subsequently be an only child. While I did experience preeclampsia and she was delivered 6 weeks early, we were blessed that her NICU stay was pretty uneventful and comparatively short (20 days). We have discussed future pregnancies at length with our doctor and he has absolutely encouraged us to have more children, with confidence that my own individual risk is considerably lower than it was the first time.

Pregnant women shouldn’t be informed about the risk of getting preeclampsia, because it will just stress them out.

Pregnant women deserve knowledge of and resources related to this condition. Knowledge is power.

Preeclampsia is rare.

Try “as common as breast cancer,” even if you’ve never heard of preeclampsia. Worldwide, preeclampsia strikes as many as one in every 12 pregnancies (or 8%).

Tips for pregnant moms or if you’re thinking of having a baby in regard to preeclampsia:

Find a doctor that you trust. Our new doctor is fully aware of the situation at hand, and I feel like he’ll be quick to get a handle on anything that comes up. He’s also very communicative and explains things so that you understand them really well.

Know the symptoms and be aware of the changes in your own body. You can read more about the disease itself here and here. My own personal symptoms were sudden swelling in my feet and ankles, that later spread up my legs, and in my face. I also experienced some dizziness and nausea at a point when my blood pressure spiked, and sudden weight gain. I really just felt off there at the end. You should alert your doctor of anything you think might not be normal.

Know your own current and future risk factors and discuss them with your provider. Proper prenatal care is essential to diagnose and manage preeclampsia.

Happy May, guys! I can’t believe 2016 is almost halfway over. Whitlee’s 18 month blog post coming soon! Here’s an adorable picture from Whitlee’s NICU stay a year and a half ago!

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