How Healthy Was Your Pregnancy?
Emerging research shows that certain health issues that occur during pregnancy can raise your risk of other conditions later. How much weight you gained, whether you developed complications like gestational diabetes, and how smooth your labor went may serve as early clues to future health problems, say experts. But this isn't necessarily all bad news. "Most of the health issues that pregnancy may influence are preventable, so it's a unique opportunity to get a handle now — and make lifestyle changes to prevent them," says Hyagriv N. Simhan, MD, director of maternal-fetal medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
Here are 6 pregnancy health problems to note — and what you can do to stay well long after you enter motherhood:
1. If You had: High Blood Pressure/Preeclampsia
Your Risk Now: Heart Disease
Women with hypertension while pregnant had symptoms of heart disease about 3 years sooner than women with normal levels, Chilean researchers found. To reduce risk, be extra vigilant about exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, and getting blood pressure and cholesterol tested regularly.
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2. If You Had: Gestational Diabetes
Your Risk Now: Type 2 diabetes
Women who develop GD have up to a 50% chance of developing type 2 diabetes within 10 years. If you had GD, tell your doc. You should get tested annually.
3. If You Had: Excess Early Pregnancy Weight Gain
Your Risk Now: Complications due to being overweight
Some research suggests that women who gain a lot of weight in the first half of pregnancy — when little of it contributes to baby's weight gain — have more difficulty losing it compared with women who gain more weight in the second half. There's also evidence that post-pregnancy weight retention tends to be deposited as belly fat, the dangerous kind that can cause inflammation and increase your risk of heart disease, says Emily Oken, MD, MPH, a Harvard assistant professor who studies pregnancy health issues.
4. If You Had: Gingivitis
Your Risk Now: Periodontal disease
About half of women experience swollen, bleeding gums during pregnancy because of hormonal changes, says periodontist Susan Karabin, DDS, immediate past president of the American Academy of Periodontology. "Most of the time this resolves after women have given birth or finished breastfeeding," she says. "But now that many women are getting pregnant later in life, they may already have some periodontal disease, and gum problems during pregnancy can make it worse."
Because gum disease (and the inflammation that comes with it) is linked to serious problems like Alzheimer's and heart disease, it's important to take precautions if you're at risk. Women may need more frequent dental visits for cleanings or a more aggressive treatment approach for healthy gums, such as scaling and root planing.
5. If You Had: A Very Long Labor
Your Risk Now: Incontinence
All women who have children (vaginally or C-section) have an increased risk of incontinence later on. But the condition is even more likely in women who had a pushing phase of labor longer than 2 hours — the protracted effort can compress a nerve that controls bladder function, says urogynecologist Lauri Romanzi, MD. She says Kegel exercises are the best way to control incontinence; pelvic floor physical therapy, medication, or surgery can help more serious cases.
6. If You Had: Postpartum Depression
Your Risk Now: Depression recurrence
Women who experience PPD are twice as likely to have another bout of depression within 5 years, say researchers. You may also be more prone during times of hormonal change, like perimenopause. Watch for symptoms — such as feeling hopeless, not sleeping well, or eating significantly less or more than usual — that last longer than 2 weeks, and talk with your doctor if you suspect a recurrence.