Health & Fitness

Keeping pregnancy risks at bay long before conception

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Summary

  • Pregnancy is a delicate period for women.
  • As such, embracing healthy lifestyles and continuous antenatal check-ups are recommended, so as to avert complications risking lives of the mother and her unborn child.
  • These approved healthy behaviours are important and most women usually strive to abide by them.

Pregnancy is a delicate period for women. As such, embracing healthy lifestyles and continuous antenatal check-ups are recommended, so as to avert complications risking lives of the mother and her unborn child.

These approved healthy behaviours are important and most women usually strive to abide by them.

Doctors also ensure that they follow the pregnancy journeys of expectant women keenly to guarantee the safety of both the mother and child.

Despite the significance of these actions, experts note that much more benefits can be reaped if check-ups and health interventions were given priority before conception.

They note that this shift would go a long way in averting the adverse effects of major maternal and child health complications that may be hard to reverse when the woman is already pregnant.

LABOUR COMPLICATIONS

This is especially true for cardiovascular or heart health, which plays a key role in determining the well-being of mothers and the unborn, long before conception.

A new study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology indicates that a woman's heart health before conceiving is strongly related to the likelihood of experiencing a complication during pregnancy or labour.

The results were deduced from a study of more than 18 million pregnancies in the United States (US), which was conducted by researchers from Northwestern University.

During the study, the scientists examined the presence of four cardiovascular (heart disease) risk factors in women before they became pregnant. They included smoking, unhealthy body weight (obesity), hypertension and diabetes.

The results of the study showed that the presence of each additional risk factor increased the chances of expectant women suffering from adverse pregnancy outcomes such as being admitted to the maternal intensive care unit (ICU), delivering pre-term babies, giving birth to children with a low birthweight or losing the unborn child altogether.

Past studies have shown that the presence of heart disease risk factors (like obesity or hypertension) before pregnancy is associated with a higher risk for maternal and child health complications as well as loss of lives.

This new study went further to prove that the presence of multiple co-occurring risk factors — two or more — may be associated with a much greater chance of adverse pregnancy outcomes than any single risk factor alone.

"We're not surprised that obesity or hypertension is associated with a higher risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes. But what is striking is that we found that with each additional risk factor, the risk of adverse pregnancy outcome gets successively higher," said Dr Sadiya Khan, a corresponding author of the study and an assistant professor of medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

"Therefore, the sum of all the risk factors is greater than the individual parts," he stated.

Based on the findings of this study, the researchers recommend that women be subjected to a more comprehensive pre-pregnancy cardiovascular or heart health assessment, as opposed to check-ups that focus on individual heart disease risk factors such as body mass index or blood pressure in isolation.

"In reality, not all pregnancies are planned, but ideally we would evaluate women well in advance of becoming pregnant, so there is time to optimise their health," said Dr Khan.

He stated: "We also need to shift our focus toward prioritising and promoting women's health as a society. For instance, instead of just focusing on identifying hypertension, more effort should be put in preventing blood pressure from becoming elevated in the first place."

QUITTING SMOKING

According to the researchers, heart health needs to be given utmost attention as more women are increasingly getting risk factors that predispose them to the ailments much earlier before they conceive.

“Levels of pre-pregnancy obesity and high blood pressure are rising and there are some indications that women are acquiring heart disease risk factors at earlier ages than before,” noted Dr Khan.

“Additionally, more women are getting pregnant later in life, giving risk factors more time to accumulate. Taken together, this has created a perfect storm of more risk factors.”

To help prevent heart disease, health experts recommend the following measures: eating healthy, exercising regularly, having a healthy weight, quitting smoking, maintaining normal blood pressure levels, drinking alcohol in moderation and managing stress effectively.