Postpartum Preeclampsia: Moms are still at risk after delivery

By Eleni Tsigas, Chief Executive Officer, Preeclampsia Foundation

Preeclampsia is a serious disorder related to high blood pressure that can happen to any pregnant women usually from 20 weeks up to six weeks after delivery. It affects one in every 12 pregnancies and takes the lives of an estimated 76,000 women and 500,000 babies globally every year.

It’s the mission of the Preeclampsia Foundation to reduce maternal and infant illness and death due to preeclampsia and related hypertensive disorders of pregnancy including HELLP syndrome and eclampsia. We work to drive awareness, provide patient education and support, improve healthcare practices, and catalyst research. We envision a world where preeclampsia no longer threatens the lives of moms and their babies.

For 2018 Preeclampsia Awareness Month and World Preeclampsia Day in May, our focus is postpartum preeclampsia, as we are trying to debunk the very common myth that delivery is the “cure” for preeclampsia. The word “cure” leaves mothers thinking they are in the clear and no longer need to focus on their health after delivery. Unfortunately, 97% of maternal deaths related to preeclampsia happen in the postpartum period, up to six weeks after delivery, which is why this campaign’s message is to remain vigilant, even after delivery.

“If I die, take care of my baby.” Katie Costello texted these words to her sister when her health took a downward spiral after delivering her baby boy. She developed severe postpartum preeclampsia and was close to death but thankfully recovered several months later. “This trial in my life has given me true purpose,” said Katie. “It is my duty as a survivor to help women who are going through this know they are not alone, and to educate other women to never let someone else speak on behalf of their body. A new mommy’s health and wellness is just as important as their precious new bundle of joy’s. We need to work together to put an end to maternal and infant deaths due to this deadly disease. If my story of struggle can help other moms realize that it will be okay with the support and love of her family, friends, and fellow survivors like myself, then I have done my job.” You can read Katie’s full story here.

Most women with preeclampsia will deliver healthy babies and fully recover. However, some women will experience complications, several of which may be life-threatening. A woman’s condition can progress to severe preeclampsia, eclampsia, or HELLP syndrome quickly. Delivery, sometimes after a period of expectant management (“watchful waiting”), is a necessary intervention. Once delivered, mom still needs to receive care if she is experiencing high blood pressure and related preeclampsia symptoms.

Any woman can develop preeclampsia after her baby is born, whether she experienced high blood pressure during her pregnancy or not. It’s important that moms who recently delivered continue to monitor their health after delivery. They should measure their blood pressure for at least six weeks postpartum, especially during the first week, which is the most critical.

Topics: Maternal Health, Mental Health, Pregnancy