Health Information and Tools > Patient Care Handouts >  Learning About Pre-Eclampsia After Childbirth
Facebook Tweet Share

Main Content

Learning About Pre-Eclampsia After Childbirth

What is pre-eclampsia?

Pre-eclampsia means that your blood pressure during pregnancy is higher than usual. You may also have other serious symptoms.

Pre-eclampsia can be dangerous. When it is severe, it can cause seizures (eclampsia) or liver or kidney damage. When it affects the liver, it can cause HELLP syndrome, a blood-clotting and bleeding problem. HELLP can come on quickly and can be deadly. This is why your doctor checks you and your baby often.

Pre-eclampsia usually occurs after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Most often, it starts near the end of pregnancy and goes away after childbirth. But symptoms may last a few weeks or more and can get worse after delivery. Rarely, symptoms of pre-eclampsia don't show up until days or even weeks after childbirth.

What are the symptoms?

Mild pre-eclampsia usually doesn't cause symptoms. But pre-eclampsia can cause rapid weight gain and sudden swelling of the hands and face.

Severe pre-eclampsia does cause symptoms. It can cause a very bad headache and trouble seeing and breathing. It also can cause belly pain. You may also urinate less than usual.

What can you expect after you have had pre-eclampsia?

In the hospital

After the baby and the placenta are delivered, pre-eclampsia usually starts to improve. Most women get better in the first few days after childbirth.

After having pre-eclampsia, you still have a risk of seizures for a day or more after childbirth. (Very rarely, seizures happen later on.) So your doctor may have you take magnesium sulfate for a day or more to prevent seizures. You may also take medicine to lower your blood pressure.

When you go home

Your blood pressure will most likely return to normal a few days after delivery. Your doctor will want to check your blood pressure sometime in the first week after you leave the hospital.

Some women still have high blood pressure 6 weeks after childbirth. But most return to normal levels over the long term.

  • Take and record your blood pressure at home if your doctor tells you to.
    • Ask your doctor to check your blood pressure monitor to be sure that it is accurate and that the cuff fits you. Also ask your doctor to watch you use it, to make sure that you are using it right.
    • You should not eat, use tobacco products, or use medicine known to raise blood pressure (such as some nasal decongestant sprays) before you take your blood pressure.
    • Avoid taking your blood pressure if you have just exercised. Also avoid taking it if you are nervous or upset. Rest at least 15 minutes before you take your blood pressure.
  • Be safe with medicines. If you take medicine, take it exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse advice line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • Do not smoke. Quitting smoking will help improve your baby's growth and health. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.
  • Eat a balanced and healthy diet that has lots of fruits and vegetables.

Long-term health

After you have had pre-eclampsia, you have a higher-than-average risk of heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. This may be because the same things that cause pre-eclampsia also cause heart and kidney disease.

To protect your health, work with your doctor on living a heart-healthy lifestyle and getting the checkups you need. Your doctor may also want you to check your blood pressure at home.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

When should you call for help?

Share this information with your partner or a friend. They can help you watch for warning signs.

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have a seizure.

Call your doctor, midwife, or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have symptoms of pre-eclampsia, such as:
    • Sudden swelling of your face, hands, or feet.
    • New vision problems (such as dimness, blurring, or seeing spots).
    • A severe headache.
  • Your blood pressure is very high, such as 160/110 or higher.
  • Your blood pressure is higher than your doctor or midwife told you it should be, or it rises quickly.
  • You have new nausea or vomiting.
  • You have pain in your belly or pelvis.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor, midwife, or nurse advice line if:

  • You gain weight rapidly.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

Enter Q718 in the search box to learn more about "Learning About Pre-Eclampsia After Childbirth".

Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.