What To Know About Preeclampsia

1 in 12 expecting moms are diagnosed with preeclampsia. Learn what it is, symptoms, risk factors, and what it means for breastfeeding.

Out of all serious pregnancy complications, preeclampsia is the most common, affecting 5-10% or about 1 in 12 expecting moms. Preeclampsia can affect both mother and baby and most often shows up after 37 weeks of pregnancy, but can develop any time after 20 weeks and even up to 6 weeks postpartum.

What is preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia occurs only during pregnancy or the postpartum period and is characterized by high blood pressure and the presence of protein in the urine. The cause of preeclampsia is not fully understood, but it may be caused by insufficient blood flow to the uterus. If you have preeclampsia, your doctor might recommend that you make changes to your diet and exercise routine or they might prescribe medication to lower your blood pressure. Depending on the severity, you may also be put on bed rest or be required to stay in the hospital for monitoring.

What are some symptoms of preeclampsia?

Common symptoms include:

  • High blood pressure (Hypertension)

  • Swelling

  • Sudden weight gain

  • Headaches

  • Changes in vision

However, some women may have few outward symptoms and many symptoms (such as swelling and weight gain) are changes that women naturally experience during pregnancy. Because preeclampsia can progress very rapidly, it’s important to consult with your healthcare provider if you think you might have symptoms. Preeclampsia sometimes leads to more serious complications such as eclampsia (seizures) or HELLP Syndrome, which is why it’s important to not miss your prenatal appointments so your doctor can monitor your blood pressure, test your urine, and keep an eye on any potential issues.

​​​​​​​What are some risk factors for preeclampsia?

Most women who get preeclampsia will have it in their first pregnancy (meaning, it’s uncommon to get preeclampsia for the first time in a second or third pregnancy). Once you’ve had preeclampsia, it’s likely that you’ll develop it again in subsequent pregnancies, too. You’re also more likely to have preeclampsia if you:

  • Have chronic high blood pressure (hypertension)

  • Have certain blood clotting disorders, diabetes, or kidney disease

  • Are overweight

  • Are carrying multiples

  • Are over 40

If a close relative like your mother, sister, grandmother, or aunt had preeclampsia, you may be at risk to develop it too. It’s always a good idea to ask if any women in your family had pregnancy complications. Asking questions and spreading the word can save lives.

​​​​​​​Breastfeeding + Preeclampsia

If you have preeclampsia, breastfeeding is still absolutely possible. Although certain medications used to manage preeclampsia can contribute to low milk supply, many moms go on to have successful breastfeeding experiences. Talk to your doctor or a Lactation Consultant about your plans to breastfeed and don’t hesitate to ask for help right away in the hospital.


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