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Having This Number of Kids May Increase Heart Disease in Women

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Having a bigger family means more love to go around, but it may actually hurt your heart. Women who give birth to four or more children may be more likely to develop heart disease than those who have fewer kids, according to new research by UT Southwestern Medical Center. (Would you know if you were having a heart attack? The Heart Attack Symptom You May Be Missing.)

Researchers looked at the number of live births a woman had had, along with her coronary artery calcium levels and aortic wall thickness—both markers of heart disease that show up before symptoms develop. Over a quarter of those with four or more kids had high calcium scores and therefore early signs of heart disease. Even a smaller family can increase your likelihood, though: 11 percent of women who had given birth two or three times saw these scary levels as well. (How Your First Period Affects Your Heart Health.)

Researchers aren’t entirely sure why yet, but surprisingly, their suspicions have nothing to do with the stress of more rugrats. One possibility: Women who have had more pregnancies may have more fat around their abdominal organs, which has been linked to a higher heart disease risk. The increased cholesterol and higher blood sugar that comes with a pregnant belly may also be increasing your risk.

But this doesn’t mean you should rethink that big family you’ve always dreamed of (or worry about the one you have!). Most of the suspected culprits behind the increased risk are a direct result of pregnancy weight gain. (How Much Pregnancy Weight Should You Really Gain?) That means losing the baby weight as quickly as possible may decrease how long you’re exposed to elevated heart-harming blood sugars and lipids and thereby lower your risk.

We know—losing lbs is easier said than done. But advice from real women on How to Beat Pregnancy Weight Gain and these Post-Pregnancy Fitness and Wellness Tips That Work can help. And focusing on saving your heart may be just the motivator you need to fit back into your favorite dress again!

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