I’ve had a Fitbit for over ten years. I started with an Alta when my company offered a discount on health insurance to encourage people to make healthy lifestyle choices. One of those ways was through tracking and logging your steps. I’m a biomedical engineer for a medical device company, and I really like data and statistics, so I was immediately interested in what the device could do. At the beginning of this year, I got the Charge 4 as a birthday present. I was in the middle of my first pregnancy, and as a pregnant mother-to-be it felt even more important to track my health.
I’m generally pretty active, with an average resting heart rate of 54. Before my pregnancy, I would usually get 13,000 steps each day. I’d also run a few days a week and do HIIT workouts and some weight lifting. Using the Charge 4 during the last months of my pregnancy, I noticed that my average resting heart rate fluctuated and crept up a bit. By the end of the pregnancy, it was around 58 but my doctors said that change was normal.
When my husband and I came home from the hospital with our new daughter, things took a turn. I hadn’t worn my Fitbit when I was in the maternity ward, but I immediately put it back on at home. I was really interested in what it would tell me about the length and quality of sleep I would be getting.
The second day home, I noticed that my resting heart rate had dropped back to 53. That didn’t concern me at first, but I began to feel just lousy and when I looked in the mirror, I looked pale. For a few hours, I chalked it up to being in recovery, but that night my heart rate dropped into the low 40s and I began to feel my heartbeat pounding in my chest. Something wasn’t right.
The next day I didn’t feel any better. I would go take care of my daughter and then sit on the couch and immediately I’d feel my heart pounding very slowly. That’s just a really off-putting feeling. We have a blood pressure cuff in our house and when we tested, my blood pressure was in the hypertension range. Then I noticed that there was some swelling in my ankles.
I’d only been home for two nights, and the last thing I wanted to do was go back to the hospital, so it took me a few hours to convince myself that that’s where I needed to be. I couldn’t ignore the data. My blood pressure just shouldn’t have been that high, and my heart rate shouldn’t have been that low.
So it was back to the hospital—this time to the emergency room. When the doctors started the tests, they asked me what my symptoms were. I was able to pull up my Fitbit data and show them the heart rate numbers and how it had been dipping down to the low 40s. With that information and some of their own tests, they were able to quickly and definitively say that I had postpartum preeclampsia.
Preeclampsia can be a precursor to seizures, strokes, or organ damage. A lot of women have preeclampsia when they are pregnant and it is often a reason to induce labor early. But it can also happen in the first week or so after pregnancy. There is not a lot of consensus on why preeclampsia occurs, but once it does happen, you definitely want to treat it immediately. I spent three days in the hospital, and it was difficult being away from my newborn daughter, but I knew I was in the right place.
The doctors seemed impressed that I could show them the health data that I had collected on my own. Of course, they took their own tests and measurements and had the information from when I was in the hospital for my delivery. But the data I had collected myself filled in a critical gap. The data on my Fitbit helped persuade me to go in sooner than I might have. It also helped the doctors quickly determine what was going on, which allowed them to begin my treatment right away. All in all, it helped speed up the care I got for a serious condition.
My numbers now are great. My resting heart rate is back in my normal range. My doctor said that once you have preeclampsia, the chance of it happening in subsequent pregnancies is slightly more elevated. The possibility of having blood pressure issues later in life is also elevated. It’s just something I’ll need to keep an eye on.
I’m still using my Charge 4 to monitor my overall well-being. My daughter has slept through the night once now. If she can do it once, I’m sure she can do it again. My sleep scores are improving slowly. I also check my step count and my resting heart rate at least once a day. The information is a good way to better understand what is happening in my mind and body. If I’m feeling run down, I can check to see if I had a terrible night’s sleep or maybe I over exercised the day before. That information helps me make good decisions about my day.
Every parent has a story about the birth of their child. Mine isn’t the one I had expected. Someday I’ll tell the story to my daughter of having to go back into the hospital just after giving birth. Fitbit will be part of that story. It helped me make a difficult decision and be a better health advocate for myself.
As told to Ethan Watters
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