Being pregnant can be one of the most rewarding and exciting times in any woman’s life. Bringing new life into the world, expanding your family, and having that mommy-to-be aura all combine for a truly meaningful experience. However, it’s important to understand how your body changes and, in particular, how to handle the potential for increased cholesterol levels. So here are a few thoughts on how to deal with cholesterol and pregnancy.
Cholesterol is a naturally occurring fat that our body produces and is vital to our everyday living. In fact, every cell in your body requires some amount of cholesterol in order to develop. But if your body creates too much cholesterol, many problems can arise. These include clogged arteries (atherosclerosis) and increased risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke. When you are pregnant, your body can produce higher levels of cholesterol. This is because your body undergoes a myriad of hormonal changes. Also, your unborn child has a need to develop fat. Your body recognizes that it needs to produce fat “for two”, which can also be a cause for increase in cholesterol levels.
Women who have Familial Hypercholesterolemia and are pregnant are at increased risk of cholesterol-related health problems. Due to FH, their cholesterol levels start at a much higher baseline, and the increased production of fat by the body during pregnancy contributes to this even more. Women with FH must immediately stop taking statins as soon as they become pregnant. Talk to your doctor about what prescription cholesterol-lowering medication is safe for you and your baby during pregnancy.
Your diet also plays a major role in the amount of cholesterol in your body, and this is especially true now that you’ll be eating for two. While we understand the cravings for excessive carbohydrates and high-fat foods, it’s important to maintain a diet consisting of fruits, vegetables, and other healthy cuisine. We recommend consulting a registered dietitian who specializes in lipidology, cardiology, or endocrinology. Also, a non-intensive workout regimen can help keep cholesterol and pregnancy from getting out of control. Just make sure to speak to your doctor before beginning a regimen. Finally, prescription medication targeted at lowering cholesterol levels should be stopped prior to pregnancy, as this may be unsafe for your baby (with the exception of bile-sequestrants).
Cholesterol levels during pregnancy should be regularly monitored by a physician. While these levels will reach their peak during the third trimester, cholesterol will generally return to normal about four weeks after you give birth. However, with FH, most lipidologists recommend that breastfeeding is limited to the first 6 months, after which you can resume taking cholesterol-lowering medication.
It’s important to remember that no two people have the same body types, and your chemical makeup is as unique to you as your new baby will be. Your cholesterol levels are established by many different factors—such as your weight, blood pressure, and family health history—and there is no set standard on how to deal with cholesterol and pregnancy. So be sure to regularly talk with your doctor to determine the best ways to allow you to live a healthy lifestyle during this magnificent time in your life.