HELLP Syndrome for Intended Parents

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HELLP Syndrome is a rare condition that can affect pregnant women during their late second or third trimesters. HELLP syndrome is named for the things it does to a woman’s body: 

H- hemolysis ( breakdown of red blood cells)

EL- elevated liver enzymes (liver function)

LP- low platelets counts (platelets help the blood clot).

Doctors know little about why HELLP develops or how to prevent it. Typically, women who are ultimately diagnosed with HELLP will begin to display symptoms including elevated blood pressure, protein in the urine, increased swelling in the extremities, and headaches. However, other common symptoms can appear, including increased nausea and fatigue.

If left undiagnosed or untreated, HELLP carries serious risks to both the surrogate and the baby, including the potential of death. Other risks include placental abruption, lung failure in both the surrogate and infant, renal failure, DIC (Blood clotting disorder), fluid buildup in the lungs, and ruptured liver hematoma.

The best treatment for HELLP Syndrome is delivery of the baby. Symptoms will generally subside within 2-3 days of delivery. Prior to 2015, it was believed that a Caesarian delivery was the best option for delivery. However, medical professionals are starting to believe that trial of labor delivery may be optimal in women past 34 weeks gestation with a favorable cervix.

If the surrogate is fewer than 34 weeks gestation, doctors may try several treatment options to control the syndrome and delay delivery. These methods can include bed rest, blood pressure medications, magnesium to manage seizures in the surrogate, and steroids to speed the lung development of your baby.

The condition statistically occurs in less than 1% of pregnancies and usually presents with many of the same symptoms as pre-eclampsia, often leading to misdiagnosis. Doctors will need to run a series of blood tests in order to accurately diagnose the condition. HELLP Syndrome can also set in within 48 hours following birth, with symptoms appearing up to seven days later.

The American Pregnancy Association estimates 4-12% of women diagnosed with pre-eclampsia will go on to develop HELLP Syndrome.

Dr. Kim Bergman

Kim Bergman, PhD, a licensed psychologist of 26 years, has specialized in the area of gay and lesbian parenting, parenting by choice and third party assisted reproduction for over two decades. Dr. Bergman has created a comprehensive psychological screening, support and monitoring process for Intended Parents, Surrogates and Donors. She is the co-owner of Fertility Counseling Services and Growing Generations and is a member of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, the American Psychological Association, the Los Angeles County Psychological Association, the Lesbian and Gay Psychotherapy Association, and the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association. She is on the national Emeritus board of the Family Equality Council. Dr. Bergman writes, teaches and speaks extensively on parenting by choice. Along with co-authors, she published “Gay Men Who Become Fathers via Surrogacy: The Transition to Parenthood” (Journal of GLBT Family Studies, April 2010). Dr. Bergman’s is the author of the upcoming book, Your Future Family: An Essential Guide to Assisted Reproduction (Red Wheel Press 2019). Dr. Bergman created her own family using third party assisted reproduction and she lives with her wife of 35 years. Her two daughters are in college.