What you need to know about preeclampsia

Many people experience preeclampsia during their pregnancy and although there are some genetic components to the development of preeclampsia, diet and nutritional status are vital in the prevention and treatment of preeclampsia.

What is preeclampsia?

Preeclampsia is a pregnancy-related condition that occurs in 5 to 8 percent of pregnancies in Australia. It is thought to be caused by the placenta not developing properly due to a problem with the blood vessels not supplying it with enough blood during the first half of pregnancy. This disrupts the blood and nutrient supply between mother and baby with signals or substances from the damaged placenta affecting the mother’s blood vessels, causing high blood pressure (hypertension) and problems in the mother’s kidneys, which causes proteins to move from the blood stream into the urine (proteinuria).

It is more common to experience preeclampsia in first pregnancies. Preeclampsia is diagnosed when high blood pressure occurs with one or more of the following symptoms, after 20 weeks gestation:

Postpartum preeclampsia

Symptoms of preeclampsia can develop up to 6 weeks after childbirth, regardless of if preeclampsia or high blood pressure was experienced during the pregnancy or not. It is normal for blood pressure to peak three to six days postpartum due to pain, medications, and recovery from labour. However, when the high blood pressure is persistent, you may be diagnosed with postpartum preeclampsia.

Postpartum preeclampsia can be treated safely while breastfeeding, and is managed in a similar way to preeclampsia during pregnancy.

Symptoms of preeclampsia

The symptoms of preeclampsia during pregnancy and postpartum are very similar and include:

Risks to baby

If preeclampsia is left untreated, it can reduce the oxygen and nutrient supply to the baby which can cause growth restriction, premature delivery and placental abruption.  Induction can be necessary if the growth is being restricted and an early birth is in the baby’s best interest. 

Risk factors 

You are at a higher risk of experiencing preeclampsia if you also experience:

A diet high in added sugar, fat and salt is also associated with an increased risk of developing preeclampsia.

Is preeclampsia related to diabetes?

While there is no clear connection between the cause of preeclampsia and gestational diabetes, people with gestational diabetes are at an increased risk of developing preeclampsia. People with type 1 or type 2 diabetes are between two and four times more likely to develop preeclampsia. 

Paternal influences

While many factors can impact the risk of developing preeclampsia, there is evidence of the father’s genetic contribution to the onset of preeclampsia. 

Preeclampsia and nutrition

Maternal diet and nutrition status is vital in the prevention of preeclampsia, particularly the nutrients that are needed for the development of the placenta. This highlights the importance of preconception care to ensure these nutritional deficiencies are corrected prior to the formation of the placenta commencing. Healthy dietary patterns with high consumption of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish and seafood are likely to be beneficial in preventing preeclampsia.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D deficiency increases the risk of mild to severe preeclampsia. Using a vitamin D supplement has a preventative effect against preeclampsia.


A calcium supplement from mid-pregnancy (20 weeks) is associated with a 55% reduction in preeclampsia, particularly for those with low calcium intake. 


Low magnesium levels increase smooth muscle contraction, which can increase vasospasm leading to higher blood pressure. A trial of an oral magnesium supplement given to women from week 25 onwards in their first pregnancy found the women who took magnesium had significantly lower blood pressure at 37 weeks and therefore, a lower risk of preeclampsia. A magnesium supplement throughout pregnancy is also thought to reduce the risk of preeclampsia in those who are at a high risk of developing preeclampsia.

Omega 3

Levels of omega 3 appear to be lower in people with preeclampsia, although the causation isn’t known at the moment. Taking an omega 3 supplement in preconception or early pregnancy for those at a higher risk of developing preeclampsia is thought to reduce the risk of developing preeclampsia.

Foods to eat with preeclampsia 

Focusing on a healthy diet with a variety of nutrients and whole foods is important during every stage of pregnancy. If you’ve been diagnosed with preeclampsia or are considered to be at a higher risk, you may want to consider following a Mediterranean diet and ensuring you’re meeting your nutritional requirements for the following nutrients:

If you’re interested in taking any supplements, please discuss this with your practitioner to ensure you’re taking the correct dose and form for you. This article is not intended to be medical advice and is purely for education purposes.