In a recent issue of People magazine, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar revealed that they would welcome another child with open arms. While that may not be newsworthy for most couples, the Duggars are another story. The Arkansas couple already have 19 biological children, all birthed by Michelle. There has been a public outcry against the Duggars for having so many children. But what health risks does Michelle Duggar face as a result of so many pregnancies? What are the health risks of a large number of pregnancies to a woman’s body?
According to Dr. Jeffrey Richardson, a practicing obstetrician for 30 years in Calif., the health risks of pregnancy rises dramatically after four. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends spacing pregnancies out by at least 18 months. Women who have a high number of pregnancies usually don’t space out their pregnancies far enough. As a result these women often experience dysfunctional labor- preterm labor (labor before 37 weeks), premature birth (birth before 37 weeks), miscarriage, more difficult labors, higher incidence of c-sections and a loss of fertility.
Each pregnancy increases the risk for postpartum bleeding and hemorrhage. When a woman is pregnant, her uterus gets stretched out. If the uterus gets stretched out enough, it may resist contracting after birth. The uterus is simply not elastic enough to contract efficiently after a large number of pregnancies. Contractions of the uterus are vital following birth as they serve to close the blood vessels opened when the placenta detaches from the uterine wall. If excessive bleeding is not stopped, death can occur.
Heart Attack & Stroke
Experts liken the strain of pregnancy on a woman’s body to running a marathon. The more often a woman runs the marathon of pregnancy, the higher her risk of heart attack and stroke. Women also gain weight during pregnancy. Pregnancies spaced too closely together do not allow a woman to lose all of her pregnancy weight. Women carrying extra pounds are at a higher risk for developing heart related complications.
Preeclampsia is a condition which occurs during pregnancy where women develop extremely high blood pressure and protein in their urine. This life threatening condition can lead the placenta to prematurely detach itself from the uterus causing hemorrhaging, stroke and death. The only effective treatment for preeclampsia is delivery of the baby.
Placenta previa is a condition in which the placenta implants over the cervix. The condition is dangerous because it can cause life-threatening bleeding. Each pregnancy leaves a scar on the wall of the uterus at the site of placental implantation. The scarred implantation site can’t be used again by a subsequent pregnancy. Each pregnancy then leaves less and less places for the placenta to implant safely. Numerous pregnancies increase the chances that the placenta will implant at a risky location, like over the cervix and lead to placenta previa.
Uterine Prolapse & Rupture
Multiple pregnancies can weaken the muscles surrounding the uterus which may result in problems with other organs like the bladder and the uterus itself. This can lead to a condition called uterine prolapsed in which the uterus drops partway into the vagina.
Older women, especially those in their 40s, are more prone to developing gallbladder disease and gestational diabetes during pregnancy. Women who have a large number of pregnancies are more likely to be older moms at some point during their childbearing years.
Anemia & Nutritional Deficiencies
Pregnancy exhausts a woman’s iron, calcium and nutrient stores. These nutritional deficiencies can cause a host of problems from weakening of bones to anemia and extreme fatigue. A woman’s body needs sufficient time between pregnancies for her body to build nutrient stores back up to normal levels. Pregnancies too close together don’t allow enough time to rebuild iron and nutrient levels.
Pregnancy can cause a worsening of any dental problems a woman may have such as cavities or periodontal disease. This risk is multiplied with a high number of pregnancies.
Circulation problems such as varicose veins get worse with each pregnancy increasing the risk of dangerous blood clots. More pregnancies means more chances of developing dangerous circulatory conditions and blood clots.
With each pregnancy, a woman’s pelvic muscles stretch. While the muscles recover somewhat, they never fully recover their previous elasticity. If the muscles get stretched out enough, incontinence can result.
Women who have a large number of pregnancies risk developing intestinal disorders such as hernias and volvulus. Hernias are a result of loss of tone from the abdominal wall. Volvulus is a condition where the bowel becomes twisted into a loop.
The health risks of a large number of pregnancies to a woman’s body increase the overall risk of death. Although the female body is designed to have many children, too many pregnancies, pregnancy in women over age 35 and births too close together all increase the risk of maternal death.
NY Daily News