Anxious about what's in store for you before and after you give birth? Your family history may hold some clues to your risk of premature labor, postpartum depression, and more.
You’re pregnant—congratulations! Amid all the excitement, you're probably anxiously thinking, if only I had a crystal ball that would tell me how my pregnancy and delivery will go.
We can’t give you that, but there’s a better way to foretell your pregnancy future. Taking a look at certain health conditions that run in your family and finding out about your mom’s birth experience (as well as that of other close female relatives, like your aunt or sister) can clue you into what you might expect, says Laura Riley, MD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology in the division of maternal fetal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. Here are four family-related factors that matter—plus four things you don't have to worry about.
Your mom went into premature labor
If your mom delivered a baby before her 37th week of pregnancy (about 10% of births in the US fall into this category), your risk of heading to the hospital early is 34% higher, according to a new study in the American Journal of Perinatology. Your odds of a preterm delivery also go up if your mom’s aunt or sister had a premie.
Depression runs in your family
Postpartum depression, which typically begins one to three weeks after delivery, affects 15% of new moms. Changes in hormones and the stress of adjusting to motherhood can help trigger it, and a family history of depression (postpartum or not) or anxiety plays a role as well. In one study of sisters, 42% of women whose female relatives had postpartum depression also developed it themselves—compared to 15% of women without a family history.
The link doesn’t mean you’ll end up with postpartum depression, says Dr. Riley. But it is important to be on the lookout so you recognize the signs, such as mood swings and intense fatigue, and not hesitate to seek outside support.
Your mother (or sister) had preeclampsia
This pregnancy complication, thought to be caused by changes in blood flow to the placenta, is usually characterized by high blood pressure or swelling in the hands and feet. It can sometimes be dangerous, so moms-to-be who develop it need to be closely monitored by their ob-gyn.
“There’s an association between mothers and sisters and daughters who have had preeclampsia,” says Dr. Riley. One study notes that your risk nearly triples if a close female relative experienced it. The only “cure” is having the baby, so if you’re near enough to your due date, your ob-gyn may recommend inducing delivery. Otherwise, you’ll likely have to visit the doctor more often to make sure your blood pressure is under control.
Approximately 9% of women develop high blood sugar levels during pregnancy, a condition called gestational diabetes. Any woman can develop it, but risk factors include being over age 25, having a BMI of 30 or higher, and yep, having at least one close family member with type 2 diabetes.
The family history link is pretty solid. One 2016 meta-analysis found that moms with relatives who had type 2 diabetes racked up a 3.5 times greater risk of developing gestational diabetes. If a member of your family has the disorder, tell your doctor, who may want to keep close tabs on your blood sugar. That's because if a woman with gestational diabetes doesn’t get her blood sugar under control, her baby can be born fat (in other words, over 8 pounds, 13 ounces, a condition called macrosomia). This can lead to breathing problems at birth and a greater risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes later in life.
To quell your worries, here are four factors that won't influence your pregnancy and birth experience.
Your mom had a C-section
Dr. Riley's patients ask her about this frequently. “Women will explain that they have the same size pelvis as their mother," assuming that this means a vaginal delivery is out of the question, "but they really don’t know that,” she says. Besides, other factors come into play that determines whether a cesarean is necessary, like the baby’s position in the uterus.
To get our best wellness advice delivered to you inbox, sign up for the Healthy Living newsletter
She gained a little or a lot of weight
Just because your mom packed on 15 or 50 pounds during her pregnancy doesn’t mean you will, too. Behavioral factors, like eating and exercise habits, plus the weight you were at before you got pregnant, matter more, says Dr. Riley.
Her labor was quick or prolonged
How short or long your labor will go depends on many variables, such as how big your baby is and how fit you are, says Dr. Riley. The length of your mom’s labor won't factor into the length of yours.
She experienced a miscarriage
Twenty percent of women can expect to experience this, whether they’re aware of it or not. Because it’s so common, it isn’t believed to run in families.