This study was designed to test the hypothesis that the vascular remodeling of pregnancy begins early, persists for at least 1 year after delivery, and is accentuated by a second pregnancy. Serial estimates of heart rate, arterial pressure, left ventricular volumes, cardiac output, and calculated peripheral resistance were obtained before pregnancy, every 8 weeks during pregnancy, and 12, 24, and 52 weeks postpartum in 15 nulliparous and 15 parous women using electrocardiography, automated manometry, and M-mode ultrasound. During pregnancy, body weight increased 14.5 +/- 1.8 kg and returned to prepregnancy values 1 year postpartum. Heart rate peaked at term 15 +/- 1 beat/min above prepregnancy levels (57 +/- 1 beat/min). Mean arterial pressure reached its nadir (-6 +/- 1 mm Hg) at 16 weeks, returning to baseline at term. The increases in left ventricular volumes and cardiac output (2.2 +/- 0.2 L/min) peaked at 24 weeks as did the 500 +/- 29 dynes x cm x s(-5) decrease in peripheral resistance, and their magnitude was significantly greater in the parous women. Postpartum they gradually returned toward baseline but remained significantly different from prepregnancy values in both groups at 1 year. We conclude that cardiovascular adaptations to the initial pregnancy begin early, persist postpartum, and appear to be enhanced by a subsequent pregnancy. We speculate that persistence of these changes may lower cardiovascular risk in later life.