Preeclampsia is a serious condition that can develop during pregnancy after week 20 or even postpartum. It occurs in 5 to 7 % of all pregnancies and is one of the leading causes of maternal morbidity. (1)
What is Preeclampsia?
Preeclampsia is having high blood pressure and at least one of the following symptoms: (2)
Protein in your urine
Low or decreased blood platelets
Liver or kidney issues
Fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema)
Don't freak out! This may sound scary. But, most women who have preeclampsia deliver healthy babies and fully recover. It is important to detect it early and receive proper prenatal care to prevent complications.
Gestational Hypertension vs Preeclampsia
Gestational hypertension or pregnancy induced hypertension (PIH) and preeclampsia are different. PIH is when a woman develops high blood pressure in the second half of pregnancy without any other symptoms. Preeclampsia is a multisystem disorder.(3)
Signs and Symptoms
Preeclampsia can sometimes develop without any signs at all, but the most common are
High blood pressure
Swelling of the face, hands, or feet
Protein in the urine
According to the American Pregnancy Association, blood pressure that is > 140/90 mm Hg, documented on 2 occasions and at least 4 hours apart, is abnormal and can be early signs of preeclampsia. (4)
As preeclampsia progresses, advanced signs and symptoms may include:(5)
Changes in vision: blurred vision, flashing lights, oversensitivity to light,
Abdominal pain, or pain under the ribs
Shortness of breath or burning behind the sternum
How Do You Get Preeclampsia During Pregnancy?
The exact cause of preeclampsia is unknown, but ongoing research is shedding light on potential causes. Some theories involve the placenta, which nourishes the baby. As the baby grows, more nutrients and resources are required from the mother. Therefore, the mother's health is crucial. Pre-existing diseases, genetic factors, and vitamin and mineral status are also important considerations. (4)
Who Is At Risk?
Women with a personal history of preeclampsia
Age: Women under 20 or over 40 years old are at a higher risk
Certain pre-existing medical conditions
Women having twins or triplets
Obesity: Being overweight or obese before pregnancy increases the risk
Certain ethnicities: African-American women have a higher incidence of preeclampsia.
Diet Approaches for Lowering Blood Pressure
If you're wondering how to prevent preeclampsia naturally, consider two evidence-based diets that can help lower blood pressure:
1. The DASH Diet
The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and plant protein while limiting red meat, processed meat, sweets, and sugar-sweetened beverages. (7)
2. The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet prioritizes healthy fats like fish, nuts, and seeds, large amounts of vegetables and fruits, and minimal added sugar, processed foods, and saturated fats.
While there's no magic preeclampsia diet, making small dietary changes can help manage blood pressure. Here are some things to think about (8):
Try to eat 25–30 grams of fiber every day.
Eat at least 5 cups of fruits and veggies every day.
If you don't like seafood, you can take special pills with fish oils.
Make sure you get enough vitamin D. (9)
Eat foods with potassium.
Don't eat too much fatty, salty, or sugary foods.
There are no foods to avoid with preeclampsia; moderation is key. You can still enjoy your favorite foods in small amounts.
Foods to Support Blood Pressure During Pregnancy
Consider adding these foods to your diet:
Citrus fruits: oranges, grapefruit, lemons
Fatty fish: salmon
Berries: blueberries, raspberries, blackberries
Dark leafy greens: kale, spinach
Nuts and seeds
You can have preeclampsia and deliver a perfectly healthy baby! But…It’s important to:
Get regular prenatal checkups.
Receive proper prenatal care throughout your pregnancy to prevent and manage preeclampsia.
Consider working with a prenatal dietitian for personalized nutrition advice that aligns with your medical conditions, goals, and lifestyle.
If you're feeling confused or overwhelmed, concerned about preeclampsia's impact on you and your baby, or unsure about what and how much to eat to manage your blood pressure, consider joining our FREE Facebook group: Mom and Baby Nutrition Support! This private community offers support, live training sessions, and valuable prenatal and postpartum.
If you’re looking for a more personalized approach, book a FREE 15 minute nutrition clarity call to see if we would be a good fit to work together!