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Baby Aspirin During Pregnancy Could Be a Lifesaver – Especially for Black Women

If you’re at risk of having dangerously high blood pressure during pregnancy — it’s called preeclampsia — simply taking a baby aspirin daily might be a huge help. Few doctors tell patients about that, it turns out, so the March of Dimes is bringing the news to would-be moms directly. Low Dose, Big Benefits is the slogan.

Black Women Will Benefit Most

African American women are most at risk in this country. While one of every 20 or 25 pregnant women develops preeclampsia, the rate is as much as double that among women of color, notably non-Hispanic Black women. In addition, African American women with preeclampsia are three more times likely than other women to die from preeclampsia-related causes. Babies are also at risk when the mother has preeclampsia. If the condition causes an early delivery, the baby will be at higher risk for challenges including breathing, seeing and hearing.

To help get the word out, retired Olympic track and field athlete Allyson Flex is sharing her story. Flex ended up having an emergency C-section her 32nd week of pregnancy due to preeclampsia. During her next pregnancy, she took baby aspirin regularly and carried that baby to term. The goal: to save other women, including women of color, from having a similar experience.

What Is Preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is when you’re pregnant and your blood pressure is so high it can hurt your liver, kidneys or heart and possibly cause you to go into labor early.

The symptoms vary, but you might:

  • feel nauseated
  • have headaches
  • develop swollen feet
  • experience blurry vision

It generally starts at about Week 20 of pregnancy. In extreme situations, it can evolve into eclampsia, a more severe issue that can lead to seizures during pregnancy and strokes later in life — again, more so among Black women.

How Baby Aspirin Can Help

Baby aspirin has two big benefits for would-be mothers with significant risk factors: If you start the regime — i.e., taking one baby aspirin every day — between Weeks 12 and 16, then keep taking an 81-milligram dose daily until your child is born, you will be 15 percent less likely  to develop preeclampsia. Second, in those same circumstances, you might be 20 percent less likely to deliver the baby too early.

The cause and effect isn’t crystal clear as it is with, say, smoking and cancer. Smoking causes cancer. Period. While the direct line between baby aspirin and avoiding or stalling preeclampsia is a hypothesis, studies so far have shown good results. It’s a simple, inexpensive, over-the-counter preventative tool. Talk to your doctor so you can weigh the benefits of taking baby aspirin against any medical conditions you already have.

Who Should You Take Baby Aspirin To Avoid Preeclampsia?

If you have one high risk factor for preeclampsia, you should look into taking a baby aspirin a day:

  • History — You’ve had preeclampsia during past pregnancies
  • Multiples — You’re carrying twins or more fetuses
  • Chronic hypertension
  • Diabetes — Type 1 or Type 2
  • An autoimmune disease
  • A renal disease

If you have two or more moderate risk factors, talk to your doctor about adding a daily low-dose pill:

  • Skin color — You’re African-American
  • Socioeconomic status — You’re in a low-income bracket
  • Age  —35 and up
  • BMI — Obesity increases the risk of developing preeclampsia
  • Family history — You’re more likely to have an issue if your mother or sister did
  • Nulliparity  — You’ve been pregnant but never had a live birth due to stillbirth, miscarriage or abortion

Is There a Down Side?

Most medications have side effect risks, even common over-the-counter ones like aspirin. And you won’t be told to add a daily aspirin to your diet if you’re unlikely to develop preeclampsia.

There’s a small chance the aspirin might lead to issues with bleeding after childbirth since aspirin thins blood, or of the placenta unattaching from the uterus too soon, but the medical community at large concludes that these are not major concerns compared to the dangers of preeclampsia.

Major medical organizations support the baby aspirin recommendation for women who meet certain criteria. Among the groups are the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

The conclusion is simple: If your doctor doesn’t mention baby aspirin, bring up the subject yourself. If you have risk factors and you’re told to open the bottle daily starting at week 12, go ahead and do it — with doctor approval.

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