We reached out to our local March of Dimes office to learn about the most common pregnancy complication: preeclampsia. As a nonprofit dedicated to providing educational resources, advocating for maternal health and funding research for diseases and conditions that affect moms and babies, the Little Rock office was knowledgeable and excited to share.

Mamas-to-be, knowledge is power. Use our preeclampsia primer to make sure you’re familiar with common symptoms, risk factors and treatments.

What is Preeclampsia?

“Preeclampsia is a condition unique to human pregnancy. Preeclampsia usually begins after 20 weeks of pregnancy in a woman whose blood pressure had been normal. It can lead to serious, even fatal, complications for both mother and baby. Preeclampsia is also a condition that can emerge after delivery.”

What are the signs and symptoms of preeclampsia?

“Signs and symptoms may include: headaches, abdominal pain, shortness of breath or burning behind the sternum, nausea and vomiting, confusion, heightened state of anxiety, and/or visual disturbances such as oversensitivity to light, blurred vision or seeing flashing spots or auras. High blood pressure and protein in the urine are key features. There may also be swelling in the legs and water retention, but this can be hard to distinguish from normal pregnancy. There may also be no symptoms. Call your doctor immediately if any of the symptoms emerge.”

Are there any factors that increase a woman’s risk?

The most significant risk factors for preeclampsia include:

• Previous history of preeclampsia

• Multiple gestation (i.e., pregnant with more than one baby)

• History of chronic high blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease or organ transplant

• First pregnancy

• Obesity, particularly with Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or greater

• Over 35 or under 20 years of age

• Family history of preeclampsia (i.e., a mother, sister, grandmother or aunt had the disorder)

• Polycystic ovarian syndrome

• Lupus or other autoimmune disorders, including rheumatoid arthritis, sarcoidosis and multiple sclerosis

• In vitro fertilization

• Sickle cell disease

• African American

If you have these risk factors, what questions should you ask your doctor?

“Right now, early diagnosis through simple screening measures and good prenatal care can predict or delay many adverse maternal outcomes of preeclampsia. Prompt treatment saves lives. It is important to communicate with your doctor about any concerns or risk factors that you are aware of, as well as family history. You should also attend your postpartum follow up with your provider.”

Can women do anything to reduce their risk?

“Maintain a healthy weight and diet, exercise and be aware of family history to communicate with providers.”

What happens when preeclampsia goes untreated?

“Women who have had preeclampsia have three to four times the risk of high blood pressure and double the risk for heart disease and stroke. They also have an increased risk of developing diabetes. While still unknown whether the risk is caused by preeclampsia or if the woman was already predisposed, these risks first emerge in the years following a complicated pregnancy. Although this may seem daunting, ample research shows that there are many ways for women to protect their heart health and that of their families!

For women who develop preeclampsia during pregnancy, risks to the fetus include preterm delivery, low birth weight and growth restrictions. Some studies suggest, babies born from preeclamptic pregnancies have a higher risk of developing hypertension, coronary artery disease and other chronic illnesses in adult life. These risks are especially true among babies who were delivered at term.”

What treatments should a woman expect for preeclampsia?

“Preeclampsia can often be managed with oral or IV medications until the baby is sufficiently mature to be delivered. This often requires weighing the risks of early delivery versus the risks of continued preeclampsia symptoms.”

How can Little Rock families support local March of Dimes efforts?

“There are many ways to get involved and support research, education, advocacy and programs to ensure the future is brighter for generations to come. For more information on how you can get involved and make a difference for Little Rock families, visit MarchofDimes.org or contact Annsley Stewart at 479-717-7071 or AStewart@MarchofDimes.org.”

Pregnancy and Covid-19

How has the pandemic affected pregnancy and newborns in Arkansas?

“Very little is known about COVID-19’s effect on pregnant women and infants. Pregnant women do not appear to be at increased risk. However, pregnancy does affect your immune system and may place you at higher risk for severe illness. Prevention efforts should be made to avoid infection.

There have been no known instances of infants born to mothers with COVID-19 who have immediately tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. There are reports of newborns with COVID-19 infection, which suggests the transmission occurs from mother to baby after delivery. Current research shows that the virus has not been found in samples of amniotic fluid or breast milk.”

What questions should expecting moms ask their doctors about their care during the pandemic?

“Pregnant women should have open communication with all of their health care providers. She should ask what the hospital policies are around prevention and risk reduction from virus spread. Will the hospital allow the partner to attend appointments, delivery, etc.? How many visitors, time frames and what should she expect when discharged? There is a more comprehensive list of questions online via the March of Dimes newsfeed.”

What are some things expecting moms should do?

Don’t panic, but stay aware of the latest evidence-based COVID-19 research and information.

Protect yourself: Wash your hands, avoid close contact with others and practice social distancing by staying at least 6 feet away from others. Stay home when possible.

Protect others: Stay home if you are sick. Cover coughs and sneezes. Clean and disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched. Anyone who is in your home who is ill with respiratory symptoms and fever should wear a mask and stay in another area of your home.”

How can Little Rock families help with March of Dimes’ COVID-19 efforts?

“March of Dimes established the Mom and Baby COVID-19 Intervention and Support Fund to address the urgent need for research, advocacy and education to protect moms, babies and families from COVID-19 and the unknown future effects of the virus. The fund supports research to track the development of interventions that are safe and prioritized for pregnant and lactating women. More COVID-19 resources and support can be found online.”