If you’re a mom, it might seem like eons since you were pregnant — so you may be surprised to learn that your health during those nine months can indicate future risk of heart disease and stroke, even if decades have passed.
In particular, if you experienced gestational hypertension, preeclampsia or eclampsia, gestational diabetes, or premature delivery, you could be at risk, research shows. In a study of over 12,000 women who had gestational diabetes, only 22% had their blood sugar levels tested a year after giving birth.
“I call pregnancy nature’s stress test — it reveals who may be more likely to develop heart disease due to the physiological stress of the experience. It can help identify women who would benefit from more aggressive heart disease prevention efforts,” says Martha Gulati, M.D., chief of cardiology at the University of Arizona in Phoenix.
The exact link isn’t clear, she says, but those complications — plus the overall physical burden of pregnancy — may change how your heart, blood vessels, or metabolism works, raising heart risks down the line.
How to Protect Your Heart Post-Baby
1. Discuss your pregnancy history.
Doctors should ask about it, but many don’t, says Sharonne N. Hayes, M.D., a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. Talk to your doctor about any pregnancy complications you had and how they may affect your heart today.
2. Get regular medical tests.
If you had high blood pressure during pregnancy, have it and your cholesterol checked every year. Get your blood sugar tested regularly if you had gestational diabetes (which increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, Dr. Gulati says.
3. Clean up your lifestyle.
If you smoke, quit. Upgrade your diet: Eat more fiber-filled plant-based foods and cut back on sodium, processed foods, and sugar. Get regular exercise and aim for 10,000 steps a day. These changes support a healthy weight — critical for a strong heart.
4. Be proactive with screenings.
Get screened for heart disease within a year postpartum if you had issues such as gestational diabetes or preeclampsia. Other risk factors may prompt your doctor to suggest blood pressure or cholesterol medications to help further protect your heart.
This story originally appeared in the December 2018/January 2019 issue of Landcruisers.