For the longest time, we have believed that the cure for preeclampsia -- a condition that happens during pregnancy and postpartum, characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine -- is birth. In other words, once baby is born, both parent and baby are free from the risks of preeclampsia and eclampsia.
Here's the reality: 97% of deaths that occur from preeclampsia happen AFTER birth, in the postpartum period.
Birth is not the cure for preeclampsia -- parents are still at risk for preeclampsia after giving birth to their baby. In fact, May is Preeclampsia Awareness Month and the Preeclampsia Foundation's theme this year is "Moms are still at risk for preeclampsia after birth -- Stay alert for symptoms."
It is so important for the parent of baby and anyone spending time around the parent, including partner, spouse, friend, sister, neighbor, family member to know the signs of preeclampsia after birth (known as "postpartum preeclampsia"), as well as during pregnancy. If left untreated for too long, preeclampsia can cause death in a short period of time.
Postpartum preeclampsia can occur at any time during the first six weeks after giving birth, with higher likelihood in the first seven days. Call your OB or midwife right away -- or go to the emergency room and let them know that you have just had a baby -- if you experience any of the following symptoms in the first six weeks:
- Stomach pain
- Nausea or throwing up/vomiting
- Swelling in your hands and face
- Severe headaches
- Seeing spots or other vision changes
- Shortness of breath
It is possible that the initial medical professional attending to your care may not notice your symptoms as possible preeclampsia signs. If you are continuing to have symptoms, request to see your primary prenatal care provider or ask to see an OB, and/or let the person know you are concerned about postpartum preeclampsia.
People who were diagnosed with preeclampsia during pregnancy as well as people who did not have preeclampsia during pregnancy are both at risk for developing postpartum preeclampsia. With quick medical treatment, postpartum preeclampsia can be treated.
While there are certain risk factors for postpartum preeclampsia, there is no specific known cause and no way to prevent preeclampsia. There is only knowing the warning signs and seeking immediate treatment.