Toward the end of your pregnancy, your obstetrician or midwife will monitor your blood pressure more closely, and check your urine for signs of elevated protein. They do this to screen you for preeclampsia. It's a pregnancy condition that, if left undiagnosed, can lead to serious pregnancy complications for both the birthing parent and their baby.
But did you know that preeclampsia is still a risk after the baby is born? Though rare, postpartum preeclampsia can occur up to 6 weeks after the baby is born, most cases occurring between 48-72 hours post-birth. Affecting less than 800 birthing parents per year, some research suggests that preeclampsia was likely present during pregnancy, with no signs or symptoms occurring until after your baby's birth. These would occur after you were discharged from the hospital.
So what is postpartum preeclampsia? Unfortunately, the root causes of it are still unknown. But the symptoms include:
- High blood pressure
- High levels of protein in the urine
- Severe headaches
- Blurry vision
- Swelling of the hands or face (Not your feet. That's a normal pregnancy and postpartum occurrence)
- Abdominal pain under the ribs
Plus, while we don't know what causes preeclampsia, here are risk factors you should be aware of. They're similar to those for pregnancy preeclampsia such as high blood pressure before or during pregnancy, obesity, having delivered multiples or having type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
If left undiagnosed like preeclampsia during pregnancy, the results can be life-threatening, such as an organ damaging seizures, stroke or death. Therefore, if you're experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, contact your obstetrician or midwife immediately. If you're unable to get in contact with them- particularly if you're under the care of an obstetrician- contact your family doctor or walk-in clinic. If all else fails, go to your local emergency room. A simple blood and urine test is all that's needed to diagnose and start treatment. This consists of taking a medication to lower your blood pressure, and possibly one that will prevent seizures. These medications, if prescribed, can also be taken while you're breastfeeding.
The postpartum period is difficult enough- from dealing with sleep deprivation, physical recovery, feeding baby and being discharged about 24 hours after your baby is born. Now you have to add to your already long To-Do list of diagnosing a potentially life-threatening condition. While you may feel unsure of what you're feeling and whether it's supposed to be part of your postpartum recovery, always trust your gut if something doesn't feel right. In the postpartum period (particularly in the early days and weeks after birth), it's always better to be safe and err on the side of caution when it comes to you and your baby's health.
For more information on both pregnancy and postpartum preeclampsia, please go to www.PreeclampsiaCanada.ca.