When you add a baby to your family, your heart doubles in size to hold all of that love.

While this sentiment is not factually accurate, pregnancy does put an additional strain on your heart and circulatory system (as well as many other body parts). According to the American Heart Association, your blood volume increases by 30 to 50 percent to provide for the growing needs of the baby. Labor and delivery also play a role in increasing the heart’s overall workload.

Most women experience pregnancy without any difficulties; however, there are some instances where the added stress on the heart can exacerbate an already existing condition or increase the possibility of developing cardiovascular complications during or in the first year after delivery. Many physicians recommend a pre-conception evaluation to review any risks and to optimize the women’s health prior to pregnancy. According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of maternal death during pregnancy and the postpartum period.

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“We highly recommend that women who have a diagnosed heart condition or are at cardiovascular risk due to obesity, hypertension or a history of complications during past pregnancies to consult with both their cardiologist and OB-GYN before conception so we can create a working plan that ensures the safety of both mother and baby,” said Dr. Julie Master, a board-certified physician in internal medicine, cardiology, and echocardiography, and who is affiliated with RWJBarnabas medical group, Monmouth Heart Specialists, and Monmouth Medical Center.

“As more women are having children later in life, their risk of cardiac complications during or after pregnancy is that much greater. However, there is no need for alarm as we have enhanced treatment methods to help manage high-risk pregnancies so that it is why we recommend having a plan in place early in the pregnancy to address any issues that may arise.”

In addition to an open dialogue, Dr. Master also recommends soon-to-be expecting mothers to pay particular attention to their blood pressure so they have a base reading before the heart starts beating for two. She also advocates that these women should begin to monitor their sodium in-take and maintain some level of physical activity.

For more information or to find a specialist in women’s cardiovascular health, please visit rwjbh.org/medicalgroup and select find a doctor, where you can search by physician name, specialty or location.