What Conditions During Pregnancy Are Hereditary?

Your family history may hold some clues to your risk of premature birth, postpartum depression, and other issues that may arise during pregnancy.

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When you become pregnant, you'll likely have a lot of things on your mind—including how your pregnancy and delivery will progress. Though pregnancies are different for everyone, you may be able to determine how parts of your pregnancy and delivery may go by exploring your family history.

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 provide clues for what you might expect, said Laura Riley, MD, obstetrician and gynecologist-in-chief at Weill Cornell Medicine Center in New York. Here are five family-related factors to look out for—plus three conditions you may not be able to predict.

Premature Birth

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the preterm birth rate has hovered around 10%—meaning that one in every 10 babies is born before 37 weeks. Researchers of a January 2021 American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology MFM study found that having a maternal family history of preterm births increased the chances of a descendant having a preterm birth. too. Additionally, your odds of a preterm delivery also go up if you were born premature or if you had a sister who had a preterm birth, according to the study.

Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression, which typically begins one to three weeks after delivery, affects one in eight women, according to the CDC. Changes in hormones and the stress of adjusting to motherhood can trigger postpartum depression, which is characterized by moderate to severe feelings of sadness, according to MedlinePlus. Additionally, a family history of depression (postpartum or not) plays a role as well according to the National Library of Medicine (NLM).

The link doesn't mean you'll end up with postpartum depression, Dr. Riley said. 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.

Preeclampsia

This pregnancy complication is thought to be caused by changes in blood flow to the placenta, the organ that develops during pregnancy to provide oxygen and nutrients to the fetus. Preeclampsia 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," Dr. Riley said. A March 2015 Integrated Blood Pressure Control study noted that your risk nearly triples if a close female relative experienced the condition. 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 your healthcare provider more often to make sure your blood pressure is under control.

Gestational Diabetes

Approximately 9% of women develop high blood sugar levels during pregnancy, a condition called gestational diabetes. Any woman can develop it, but according to a June 2021 International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, risk factors include being older, having a BMI (body mass index) of 30 or higher, and having at least one close family member with type 2 diabetes.

If a member of your immediate family has been diagnosed with diabetes, tell your healthcare provider so that close tabs on your blood sugar may be taken. If you have gestational diabetes and your blood sugar isn't under control, your baby could be born at a heavier weight. When babies are born weighing more than eight pounds, 13 ounces, they are characterized as having macrosomia, according to the NLM. This condition can lead to breathing problems at birth and a greater risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes later in life.

Miscarriages

According to the NLM, miscarriages are "the most common form of pregnancy loss." The risk of miscarriage can be higher due to certain factors—such as the mother's age, history of miscarriages, and lifestyle or health factors. Although there are many different factors that can cause miscarriage to occur, researchers also discovered miscarriages have a 29% chance of heritability (how much a trait or condition is based on genetics), per a November 2020 study published in Nature Communications.

What Conditions Are Not Considered To Be Hereditary?

Just as there are pregnancy-related conditions or situations that have a familial pattern, there are some that are not. Cesarean deliveries (C-sections), weight gain, and duration of labor are three pregnancy experiences that are not considered hereditary.

Cesarean Sections (C-sections)

A C-section is a surgical delivery of a baby through an incision in the mother's abdomen and uterus. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, C-sections are performed when they are deemed to be the safer alternative for the mother, baby, or both.

Numerous factors determine whether the procedure is needed, instead of a vaginal delivery, according to Dr. Riley. But her patients often ask about the need for the surgery, based on their mothers' experiences. "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," Dr. Riley said.

Amount of Weight Gain

Just because your mother packed on 15 or 50 pounds during her pregnancy doesn't mean that you will too. Behavioral factors, such as eating and exercise habits, plus the weight you were at before you got pregnant, matter more, Dr. Riley said.

Duration of Labor

Labor is the process that your body goes through to prepare for delivery. It's a series of progressive, continuous uterus contractions that help the cervix open and thin so that the fetus can move through the birth canal, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. How short or long your labor will go depends on assorted factors, including maternal age and fetus weight, according to a December 2018 study published in Medicine. The length of your mom's labor—or that of any immediate, female family members—won't factor into the length of your labor.

If you have any questions or concerns about anything related to your pregnancy, it's always a good idea to contact your healthcare provider for answers.

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