The decision to become pregnant is one that requires careful consideration for any woman, but it is especially tough for women with congenital heart defects – heart problems that start at birth and require lifelong medical care.

Generally, doctors have advised women with the most complex congenital heart defects not to become pregnant because it’s too risky. New recommendations from the American Heart Association now say that women with such conditions may be able to have a safe pregnancy if they are carefully monitored and give birth under the care of a team of heart and neonatal experts.

Pregnancy With Heart Problems

Dr. Daisy Lazarous, a cardiologist with Adventist Medical Group.

Pregnancy strains the heart, as more blood circulates through the heart and the heart rate increases by 10 to 20 beats per minute. This can be a concern for a woman who has structural defects with her heart that can cause a weak or irregular heartbeat, low blood pressure and a risk of heart failure.

However, due to medical advances, many women with heart problems can now have a safe pregnancy and delivery, says Daisy Lazarous, MD, a cardiologist with Adventist HealthCare Adventist Medical Group, who practices at Washington Adventist Hospital.

Seek Prenatal Care Early

“These recommendations really just reinforce some things that we already knew,” said Dr. Lazarous. “A woman with any type of heart disease or defect must consult her cardiologist and OB/GYN long before trying to become pregnant so that they can receive the proper prenatal care. It is possible for many of these women to have a healthy pregnancy under the right care.”

Dr. Lazarous says that women with heart defects or disease should consider the following recommendations.

Consult your doctors early. If you have a heart condition, this includes your OB/GYN, cardiologist and any other specialists you may be seeing for other health conditions. For any woman, experts recommend consulting your doctor at least three months ahead of becoming pregnant. This is especially important for women with heart disease who may be on medications.

Get regular prenatal care. Once you become pregnant, it’s important for a woman with a heart problem to see the proper specialists regularly throughout her pregnancy.

Give birth at a medical center with an expert team. Women with heart problems should look for a hospital that offers a cardiologist experienced in their condition, an OB/GYN specializing in high-risk pregnancies, heart anesthesiologists and heart surgeons.

Continue monitoring. It’s vital for women with heart disease to continue follow-up appointments for six months after giving birth as they are still at risk for heart complications.

Need a cardiologist with experience in women’s heart care? Schedule an appointment with Dr. Lazarous at Adventist Medical Group.