Staying Healthy After Pregnancy

smiling young mother holds baby in bed

How can new mothers stay heart healthy?

Changing bodies, changing schedules, changing diapers. New moms have a lot to juggle after giving birth.

It’s also a key time for you to stay on top of your own health. Many heart-related problems can happen in the days and weeks after delivery — even up to a year later.

Some symptoms, such as fatigue and mild pain, are expected after childbirth. But strange or sudden changes may be a sign of stroke, heart problems or other dangerous conditions.

Wellness tips for new moms:

  • Make your health a priority. Manage any medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, and be aware of changes in your health.

  • Get continued medical care. Take time for all medical appointments even after pregnancy. Postpartum care is important and a follow-up visit is suggested within 10 to 14 days of delivery for women with high blood pressure or heart disease. This can be with your primary care professional or cardiologist. (The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists suggests that care should be ongoing, rather than a single visit.)

  • Inform new health care providers about the pregnancy. Discuss any problems with your pregnancy or delivery with them. They will use this health history to help treat any issues that may arise.

  • Monitor mental health. Changes that happen to your body after pregnancy can affect your mental and social well-being. Seek urgent help if you feel depressed or are at risk of harming yourself or your baby.

  • Find ways to be active. Your health care team will let you know when it’s safe to exercise. Most women begin with walking, stretching and other forms of light exercise. Monitoring progress and adapting to a changing body are essential.

  • Find time to sleep. Sleep problems are common after childbirth and can increase your risk of depression.

  • Eat nutritious foods. If you're breastfeeding, making the right dietary choices is even more important.

  • Rely on a support network. Ask for help and reduce the items on your to-do list.

What are signs of trouble after delivery?

Knowing common symptoms and taking steps to stay healthy can reduce your risk of serious medical problems. Some normal postpartum symptoms can be similar to signs of underlying heart disease. Watching for changes and taking action is essential. If you have any concerns about your health or the health of your baby, consult your health care provider immediately.

Some complications show up days after delivery. For instance, heart rate and blood pressure normally decrease within 48 hours postpartum. But blood pressure may increase again three to six days later due to fluid shifts. During this period, you should be monitored for complications.

Also, get medical help right away if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Extreme headache
  • Dizziness
  • Vision changes
  • Fever of 100.4 or higher
  • Swelling in hands or face
  • Bleeding
  • Chest pain
  • Severe swelling, redness or pain in a leg or arm
  • Mental health issues
  • Serious heart issues after delivery

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines a pregnancy-related death as one that happens while a woman is pregnant or within a year of the end of a pregnancy. More than half of pregnancy-related deaths happen after childbirth.

The risk of dying of a pregnancy-related complication is low. But women with chronic conditions are at greater risk.

Some life-threatening heart conditions after delivery include:

  • Stroke. Stroke occurs when blood flow to part of the brain is blocked or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, and pregnancy is a known risk factor. Remembering the word "F.A.S.T." can help you spot stroke symptoms and respond quickly: Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, Time to call 911. The third trimester and the first 12 weeks after delivery are the most likely time for stroke to occur.
  • Peripartum cardiomyopathy (PPCM)This is an uncommon form of heart failure. It happens in the last month of pregnancy or up to five months after delivery. Common signs include shortness of breath, chest discomfort and fluid retention. If you have these symptoms, seek medical help right away.

  • Aortic dissection. The complication is rare but life-threatening. It’s caused by a tear in the wall of the aorta, the major artery carrying blood. Most cases happen in the third trimester or during the postpartum period. Symptoms of aortic trouble — which is a medical emergency — include sudden severe chest or upper back pain, often described as a tearing, ripping or shearing sensation, that radiates to the neck or down the back; sudden severe abdominal pain; loss of consciousness; shortness of breath; sudden difficulty speaking, loss of vision, weakness or paralysis of one side of your body, similar to those of a stroke; weak pulse in one arm or thigh compared with the other; leg pain; difficulty walking or leg paralysis.