Cholesterol levels will tend to rise steadily as your pregnancy progresses, but doctors do not generally screen for cholesterol while you are pregnant. Because cholesterol is necessary for your growing baby's nervous system development, it is dangerous to take cholesterol lowering drugs during pregnancy. Choleseterol levels return to normal about four weeks after giving birth and may normalize more quickly if you breastfeed your baby.
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance produced by the liver that is necessary for producing hormones, supporting cell membranes and digesting food. According to developmental biologist Laura Woolett maternal cholesterol passes into the fetus and regulates circulation and metabolic development.
There are both good and bad types of cholesterol. Low density lipoproteins or LDL cholesterol can lead to heart disease while high density lipoproteins or HDL cholesterol filters bad cholesterol in the blood. Triglycerides are found in sugars, starches and alcohol and are bad in high numbers. During pregnancy levels of HDL and LDL cholesterol often both rise due to hormonal fluctuations.
According to Dr. Gourmet pregnancy expert Faith Bontrager, cholesterol levels rise in women due to hormonal changes that happen when you are pregnant, on birth control pills or during your menstrual cycle. Cholesterol levels rise during the second trimester of pregnancy and peak during the third trimester. These levels drop off about four weeks after you have given birth, but many doctors will wait until six weeks postpartum to test your cholesterol levels again.
Stress can contribute to unhealthy cholesterol levels, so during pregnancy you should relax and do things that promote your emotional well being. Cholesterol-lowering diets are not usually suggested during pregnancy, but you should eat a healthy diet with lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and fish. Exercise in moderation while pregnant to keep your cholesterol levels in check, but make sure to discuss any fitness plan with your doctor first.
Although cholesterol intake should not increase during pregnancy, eating more omega-3 fatty acids—found in fish, flaxseeds and walnuts—is beneficial to your baby's brain development and your overall health. According to MedicineNet.com eating omega-3 fats has been associated with lower cholesterol triglyceride levels and a lower risk of deadly heart attacks. Sources of omega-3 include soybeans, peanuts, spirulina, wheat germ and cheddar cheese. Eating garlic is believed to lower your overall cholesterol levels, but you should avoid large amounts of it right before labor as it increases the time it takes your blood to clot.
You should not take a type of cholesterol lowering drug called statins if you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant soon as the risk of birth defects is very high. The New England Journal of Medicine reported that 20 out of 52 women who were exposed to statins during the first trimester of pregnancy gave birth to children with defects of the limb or central nervous system.