High Cholesterol in Pregnancy & Breastfeeding: What You Need to Know
Disclaimer: This page houses important information and resources pertaining to high cholesterol during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, including links to our evidence-based Fact Sheets. However, the resources here should not replace the care and advice of a medical professional.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in our blood. Our bodies need it to build healthy cells, and when a person is pregnant extra cholesterol is needed for two reasons: (1) to fuel the rapid growth of the baby and the placenta; and (2) to make estrogen and progesterone, hormones that are vital for carrying a pregnancy to term. The changes in a person’s body that occur during pregnancy naturally cause an increase in total cholesterol.
Reference: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
However, too much “bad cholesterol” (called LDL, or low-density lipoproteins) can increase the risk of heart disease, which can lead to heart attacks or strokes. Whether high cholesterol levels are caused by lifestyle factors (such as a poor diet or smoking), medical conditions (such as diabetes or polycystic ovary syndrome), or by genetic factors inherited through families (like Familial Hypercholesterolemia, or FH), they need to be managed during pregnancy for the health of both the person who is pregnant and their baby. Lifestyle changes like exercise, not smoking, and eating a healthy diet are often the first line of defense against high cholesterol, but sometimes medications are needed when lifestyle alone won’t bring cholesterol levels down to healthy levels.
“Cholesterol increases significantly during pregnancy by about 25-50%. [People] with FH experience the same increase, but since they are starting out at a much higher baseline, they can get extremely high cholesterol during pregnancy.”— FH Foundation
Related Baby Blogs
- FH Foundation: Women with FH & Pregnancy
- National Lipid Association: Lipid Treatment in Conception, Pregnancy, and Lactation
- National Lipid Association: High Triglycerides in Pregnancy
- The Bump: High Cholesterol during Pregnancy
- FH Foundation
- Foundation of the National Lipid Association
- Preventative Cardiovascular Nurses Association
- Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine
- The Mighty