A smooth pregnancy, free of complications, is what we all pray for. However, life happens sometimes, and it’s in the best interest of mum, dad and baby to be aware of possible complications in pregnancy, and how they can be avoided.
Before I got pregnant, I had no idea what preeclampsia was, or that a person could develop high blood pressure in pregnancy without any history of hypertension. By the time I had overcome preeclampsia, I knew more about it than I could ever have imagined. Here are just a few things every expecting parent should know about preeclampsia:
- Preeclampsia is the most common complication that can occur in a pregnancy, affecting 1 in every 20 pregnancies.
- It usually develops in the 3rd trimester and is a leading cause of maternal mortality.
- Preeclampsia is a disorder of pregnancy characterized in the early stages by high blood pressure and protein in the urine, and in later stages by swelling (usually in the hands, face and feet), blurry vision, vomiting, and weakness.
- If untreated or not well managed, it can develop into eclampsia, where a pregnant woman goes into a coma, and sometimes loses her life.
- In treating preeclampsia, managing the high blood pressure is key, so anti-hypertensive medication is usually prescribed.
- Two sets of people are most at risk of preeclampsia: first-time mothers, and mothers carrying more than one baby.
- Preeclampsia affects the unborn baby. In fact, the main effect is poor growth of the foetus, because the blood supply to the placenta is restricted.
- Preeclampsia can have some long-term consequences for the developing baby. High blood pressure in pregnant women may affect your child’s thinking skills for years. Also, preeclampsia often leads to preterm delivery, which has its own risks.
- Attending your antenatal classes REGULARLY will help your doctors and nurses detect preeclampsia early, as your urine will always be tested and your blood pressure checked.
- If you have already developed preeclampsia, the best thing you can do after your doctor has prescribed medication and a healthy diet for you is to REST. Sometimes doctors insist on keeping the patient admitted and on complete bed rest if the BP is getting dangerously high; this means she isn’t even allowed to walk around. She’s cleaned up in bed, and if she needs to urinate, she calls for a bedpan.
- The exact causes of preeclampsia are not known, but low-dose aspirin given to women at risk of preeclampsia has been shown to help. My doctor will likely mention this when I get pregnant again.
- Dads also have a role to play. During and after preeclampsia, a mum may be weak, moody or weepy. Her partner’s patient support is needed most at this time, and a present father will do the new infant a world of good.
A mum with preeclampsia may go into spontaneous preterm labour like I did, or her doctor may decide to bring the baby out before term, to save both lives. Caring for a preterm baby is a different experience altogether; I’ll share what I learnt from my experience in a subsequent article.