What can I expect during prenatal visits?
You'll see your health care provider often during pregnancy. Your weight and blood pressure will likely be checked at every visit, and you might need frequent blood and urine tests.
How often you see your cardiologist during your pregnancy will depend on the severity of your heart condition. Your health care provider might use certain tests to evaluate your heart function, including:
- Echocardiogram. This is a type of ultrasound that uses sound waves to produce images of your heart and the structures within your heart.
- Electrocardiogram. This test records your heart's electrical activity.
How can I make sure my baby is OK?
Your health care provider will monitor your baby's development throughout the pregnancy. Routine ultrasound exams can be used to track your baby's growth, and specialized ultrasounds can be used to detect fetal heart abnormalities. Your baby might need monitoring or treatment after delivery as well.
How can I prevent complications?
Taking good care of yourself is the best way to take care of your baby. For example:
- Keep your prenatal appointments. Visit your health care provider regularly throughout your pregnancy.
- Take your medication as prescribed. Your health care provider will prescribe the safest medication at the most appropriate dose.
- Get plenty of rest. Take a daily nap, if you can, and avoid strenuous physical activities.
- Monitor your weight gain. Gaining the right amount of weight supports your baby's growth and development. Gaining too much weight places additional stress on your heart.
- Manage anxiety. Ask questions about your progress. Find out what to expect during labor and delivery. Knowing what's happening can help you feel more at ease.
- Know what's off-limits. Avoid smoking, alcohol, caffeine and illegal drugs.
What signs or symptoms should I report to my health care provider?
Contact your health care provider if you have any signs or symptoms that concern you, particularly:
- Difficulty breathing
- Shortness of breath with exertion or at rest
- Heart palpitations, rapid heart rate or irregular pulse
- Chest pain
- A bloody cough or coughing at night
What about labor and delivery?
Your health care provider might recommend delivering your baby at a medical center that specializes in high-risk pregnancies. If there are concerns about your heart or circulation or you need to have certain specialists present during labor, your labor might be induced.
Specialized equipment might be used to monitor you during labor. Your heart rate and rhythm might require monitoring throughout labor and delivery.
Your contractions and your baby's heart rate will be monitored continuously. Instead of lying flat on your back, you might be asked to lie on your side and draw one of your knees toward your chest.
To reduce stress from pain, your doctor might recommend that you receive medication through a catheter to your spine (epidural) or an injection into your spine (spinal block) to manage your pain. If you deliver vaginally, your health care provider might limit your pushing by using forceps or a vacuum extractor to help deliver your baby.
If you're at risk of endocarditis, you might receive antibiotic treatment just before and after delivery.
It's unusual to need a C-section because of a heart condition. If you develop an obstetrical problem that leads to a C-section, special precautions will be taken to monitor your heart function during the delivery. Your doctor might recommend scheduling a date to induce labor under controlled conditions if you have certain forms of a severe cardiac disease during pregnancy.
Will I be able to breast-feed my baby?
Breast-feeding is encouraged for most women who have heart conditions, even those who take medication. Discuss possible treatment adjustments with your health care provider ahead of time.
If you have a congenital heart problem that greatly increases your risk of endocarditis, your doctor will probably discuss the risk of mastitis while breast-feeding. This fairly common infection could pose a special risk in your situation. Pumping and feeding breast milk might be recommended in some circumstances.
July 18, 2017
See more In-depth
- Waksmonski CA, et al. Acquired heart disease and pregnancy. https://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed May 16, 2017.
- Nanna M, et al. Pregnancy complicated by valvular heart disease. Journal of the American Heart Association. 2014;3:e0007.
- Waksmonski CA, et al. Pregnancy in women with congenital heart disease: General principles. https://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed May 16, 2017.
- Prenatal care. Department of Health and Human Services. http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/prenatal-care.html. Accessed May 18, 2017.
- Heart disorders in pregnancy. Merck Manual Professional Version. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/gynecology-and-obstetrics/pregnancy-complicated-by-disease/heart-disorders-in-pregnancy. Accessed May 16, 2017.
- Regitz-Zagrosek V, et al. Management of cardiovascular diseases during pregnancy. Current Problems in Cardiology. 2014;39:85.