Is Preeclampsia An Avoidable Condition? This One Change Could Affect Expecting Moms Everywhere

Before I was pregnant, all I knew about preeclampsia came from what I’d seen on “Downton Abbey.” Most of you might remember this – in Season 3, Lady Sybil, the youngest Crawley daughter, experiences troubling symptoms after giving birth. These symptoms include swollen ankles and seizures, and because the doctors fail to act quickly enough, Sybil tragically dies, having just delivered her baby girl.

By Gwen Farrell3 min read
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Preeclampsia, also known as toxemia, is the precursor to eclampsia, a serious condition which can lead to maternal death. Though it’s not as rampant today as it was in Sybil’s time, preeclampsia and eclampsia are still dangerous issues which any pregnant woman can develop. But new research might suggest that preeclampsia is an avoidable condition, and this one change could affect expecting moms everywhere.

What You Need To Know About Preeclampsia

Toxemia, or preeclampsia, is a severe form of hypertension which can develop around the 20th week of pregnancy. Preeclampsia may be difficult to detect at first because many of its symptoms mimic traits experienced in pregnancy, like swollen feet and hands, sudden weight gain, nausea or vomiting, and shortness of breath.

Though consistent monitoring and medication may be used to treat preeclampsia as a complication, usually the most recommended treatment is delivering the baby, though this can vary based on how critical the situation is, how acute the symptoms are, and how far along in development the baby is.

Early symptoms can include dizziness or changes in vision, intense headaches, and pain in the abdomen. Preeclampsia leads to increased proteins in urine as well. In extremely serious cases, it can also lead to organ failure, seizures, and blood vessel spasms, sometimes causing the placenta to detach. In Sybil’s case at least, the preeclampsia went untreated and then spread to her brain, causing the seizures. It’s estimated that 1 in 10 pregnant women develops preeclampsia, while 1 in 100 will develop eclampsia.

About 1 in 10 pregnant women develops preeclampsia, while 1 in 100 will develop eclampsia.

Preventing Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia, which essentially means that a woman’s blood pressure has gone through the roof, was previously thought to be unpreventable. Even women who have previously had a record of stable blood pressure can find themselves suffering from this complication. But now we know there’s more to this issue than meets the eye.

The research on this issue is attributed to Dr. Tom Brewer, an OB/GYN who researched preeclampsia in the 1950s and ‘60s. Dr. Brewer found that while preeclampsia results in these troubling symptoms and is most commonly associated with chronic high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, what’s really at play here is what he refers to as abnormal blood volume, which is potentially preventable. 

While in medical school and working in hospital wards with pregnant mothers from poorer areas, Dr. Brewer observed that many of the women on bedrest with preeclampsia had poor diets and were dehydrated. Their condition was made even worse by one of the prescribed medicines for preeclampsia, which was a diuretic. 

By surveying the women and doing liver and blood tests, Dr. Brewer came to see a connection between adequate nutrition and the prevention and treatment of preeclampsia. With this knowledge in mind, and through running an observation of his own where he prescribed movement and a diet high in protein for pregnant women, Dr. Brewer asserted that the treatment for preeclampsia shouldn’t be grounded in bedrest and diuretics, but in exercise and a well-balanced diet. With this research, he created the Brewer Diet.

Pregnancy Safe Diet for Both Mom and Baby

We know that diet and exercise, as well as increased attention to supplements and prenatal vitamins, are absolutely essential during pregnancy. But how much thought do we really give to what we eat when we’re pregnant?

Dr. Brewer’s diet plan specifically emphasizes consuming protein and discourages restricting food.

It’s good to indulge in a fast food or sugar craving every once in a while, but beyond that, what are we putting in our bodies that’s supporting both our growing baby and us? Dr. Brewer explains, “One of the main functions of the pregnant body is to preserve the pregnancy and nourish the baby. The body’s ability to do this well depends a great deal on its ability to increase the mother’s blood volume. However, if the mother is trying to restrict her weight gain to someone’s ‘ideal’ number, by going on a high protein, low calorie diet, much of the protein that she eats will get burned up for calories. This mother will probably have trouble expanding her blood volume adequately.”

It’s intriguing that Dr. Brewer not only brings up proper nourishment, but also weight restriction during pregnancy. We should avoid weight restriction in general if it’s not in tandem with a healthy diet and exercise, but if there’s ever a period we should avoid it, it’s during pregnancy. If we’re eating a well-balanced diet during pregnancy, we can leave worrying about weight gain until after we’ve delivered our baby. We not only have ourselves to think about now – someone else’s health is now relying on everything we put into our body, and when we restrict what we eat for unhealthy reasons, we may contribute to fetal development that’s less than ideal. 

Dr. Brewer’s diet plan is unique from most pregnancy food suggestions in that it specifically emphasizes consuming protein, around 120 grams per day. The plan also discourages restricting food or losing weight, and eating around 2,600 calories per day to maintain both mother and baby’s development. Essentially, the Brewer Diet relies on protein, salt, and water consumption to replenish possible depletion of protein stores. When he observed pregnant moms adhering to proper nourishment and, more importantly, consistent protein consumption, Dr. Brewer found that women with previously poor diets were able to deliver healthy babies with no complications.

Closing Thoughts

There’s an overwhelming amount of information on what a pregnant mom should eat or not eat, but most of those resources are rarely able to pinpoint how exactly they help a pregnant mother or a developing baby. The Brewer Diet kills two birds with one stone – not only is it a balanced approach to food for both mom and baby, but it could also prevent a serious and life-altering complication.

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