Special to the Recorder
With Mother’s Day approaching, it’s a time to consider not only the heart health of mothers but also of mothers-to-be. It is important for pregnant women to take care of their hearts because their circulatory systems are working overtime. In fact, the heart pumps 30 to 50 percent more blood than normal during pregnancy.
The key to a healthy pregnancy is regular prenatal care, but there are a few ways to keep your heart in shape during this exciting time.
Diet and exercise still remain the most important factors in taking control of your heart health. Most women need to increase their calorie intake during pregnancy, but ideally this should be done in a nutritious way.
Look for foods that are high in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins. Nuts, berries, oatmeal and beans are all good options. One type of diet to consider is Mediterranean, which includes many high-fiber nuts and whole grains.
In general, pregnant women should avoid foods high in sugar and fat because it can have negative short- and long-term effects. Limit salty foods, which can increase blood pressure, and caffeine, which can trigger irregular heartbeats. Some foods that are normally considered heart-healthy, like sprouts or store-made salads, should be avoided because they pose risks to the pregnancy. Looking long-term, Australian researchers at the University of Adelaide found that children whose mothers ate junk food during pregnancy were more likely to crave a high-fat, high-sugar diet.
Exercising during pregnancy can be very beneficial, according to research from the American Pregnancy Association. It can lower blood pressure and in some cases improve sleep, increase energy and lessen pregnancy-related problems. Low-impact, moderate-intensity activities like walking, swimming and yoga are the best options. Limit high-impact aerobic activities that pose a risk of falling or abdominal injury, like contact sports or horseback riding.
When exercising, make sure to take frequent breaks and drink extra fluids. Don’t push yourself if you get short of breath or feel uncomfortable. It’s a good idea to discuss your exercise program with your doctor before you start one.
As more women choose to have children in their late 30s and early 40s, the percentage of pregnancies complicated by heart-related conditions has increased to about 1 to 4 percent, according to a Cleveland Medical Clinic study. Pregnancy can make previously existing heart conditions worse or cause them to produce symptoms for the first time.
If you have heart disease and are considering a pregnancy, talk to your doctor or cardiologist about what steps you should take. Heart medications may have to be changed or stopped. Once pregnant, you should alert your cardiologist, and you may be connected with a high-risk OB-GYN.
For some women, a heart condition can emerge during the pregnancy – especially during the last trimester when more demands are put on the heart. Hypertension is the most likely condition to develop. If you experience palpitations, chest pain or tightness, or other symptoms of heart disease, call your doctor immediately. Pregnancy with a heart condition can be managed, but it requires extra precautions and monitoring.
Overall, pregnancy is a time to go back to the basics. A sensible diet and easy exercise are better than a strict regimen or complicated workouts. Simple, healthy choices can have great rewards for your heart, your well-being and your baby.
Dr. Anthony Magnano is a Ponte Vedra resident and cardiac electrophysiologist at St. Vincent’s Medical Center Riverside. For more information on Dr. Magnano and his specialty treating Atrial fibrillation, visit AfibJax.com.