What to Know About Preeclampsia

June 2, 2014

Out of all serious pregnancy complications, preeclampsia is the most common (affecting 5-10% or about 1 in 12 expecting moms). Preeclampsia is a condition that can affect both mother and baby and most often shows up after 37 weeks, 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). One 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.

Have you had preeclampsia? Share your experience with us in the comments below.

7 thoughts on “What to Know About Preeclampsia

  1. I had high blood pressure with pregnancy 1 & 2 and made it to 39 weeks with both without developing any of the other symptoms of preeclampsia. I was on blood pressure meds for almost the entire pregnancy with #1 & 2. With pregnancy #3 I was induced at 36 weeks because cholestasis and preeclampsia had set in rapidly over a 48 hour period. Normal blood pressures were suddenly 165-180/100-110.

  2. I gained weight appropriately with pregnancy #1 and had no health issues. But baby #1 was born with meconium aspiration and was sent to the NICU for respiratory recovery. After hospital discharge without my baby, I borrowed the medela symphony for a month and it was a God send for my milk supply. I pumped for the NICU and by the time it was time to take my baby home, I had adequate milk supply.

    For my second pregnancy, I had no health issues, so I thought. Most of the pregnancy went just fine up until the end when I developed preeclampsia with HELLP syndrome. I delivered two healthy preemie twin girls but the illness had taken my milk supply into the toilet. My girls were sent to the NICU. I started pumping right away on the Medela Symphony + Preemie but it took a good 4 days before I saw a drop of milk. After hospital discharge without my babies, I rented the Medela Symphony again. Lactation has been a challenge due to the preeclampsia with HELLP syndrome.

    I would like to know if there are other mamas out there with preeclampsia and HELLP who have successfully gotten your supply up high enough for your baby(s) and how long it took to get there.

  3. I had postpartum preeclampsia. For eight weeks after having my first. I had a really hard time with breastfeeding due to low milk supply. I finally just gave my baby formula. I am 32 weeks pregnant with my second baby. I have been trying to watch what I eat and did great in second trimester but now it seems I am gaining five pounds a week sometimes. I am really nervous it will happen again. But only time will tell. I just hope I can breastfeed my baby this time around.

  4. I was diagnosed with preeclampsia at 25 weeks. At first my Dr thought it was heartburn but after going to the hospital, I ended up having an emergency C-SECTION to save myself and my daughter. Tomorrow is my two week check up which the Dr will let me know how I’m doing on my BP meds that I was given in the hospital. I am now required to take my BP daily. I’m happy to report it’s stayed low. I’m having trouble breastfeeding but I want to continue since my daughter is in the hospital fighting for her life daily, I feel it’s the least I can do for her. What can I do to help my milk supply come in? I pump every 3-4 hours but it seems I get less every time. It’s difficult because I don’t get to see my baby all the time when I do pump and that makes me sad.

    • Hi Debbie,

      Thank you for sharing your story. We recommend continuing to consult with your healthcare provider, who is best suited to guide you and connect you with the resources you need to breastfeed successfully. You can also find tips for pumping for your premature baby, including how to increase your supply, on our website here: http://bit.ly/1PyIrTs. Keep up the amazing work and remember that every drop counts! You’re doing a fantastic job. Congratulations on your new little one!

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