When my older brother, Andrew, was born in 1957, my mother suffered from dangerously high blood pressure, otherwise known as pre-eclampsia. If anyone was watching carefully, they would have realized that her blood pressure had been creeping up all along. The problem was that her typical blood pressure was low so no one noticed until she showed signs of toxemia—high blood pressure plus swelling, signs that can lead to seizures, kidney failure, coma and even death. They immediately gave her barbiturates to lower her pressure. And then my mother breastfed my brother. The nurses said he was the calmest baby in the whole nursery. His first meal, of course, was spiked breast milk. Little Andrew went from calm to an angry wreck when he got home a week later. My mom figured out the drug link and he eventually got through the withdrawals. ( BTW: my brother is now a respected orthopedic surgeon without any repercussions from his first stint with drugs and doctors no longer give nursing women barbituates.) Fortunately for my mother, her pre-eclampsia never progressed to full-blown eclampsia, which can kill.
My point isn't laced breast milk-that's for another blog--but the continued dangers of eclampsia. If you watched Downton Abbey last night, you would seen a tragic story. As Eleni Tsigas and Christine Morton write in today’s Daily Beast, that while viewers tonight “may dismiss the dramatic plot twist as unrealistic, or express relief that women today no longer die so tragically in childbirth, those viewers would be mistaken on both counts.” Their piece discusses the current situation of eclampsia in the U.S. and what women can do to make sure they are armed to prevent its dangerous repercussions.