[UPDATE: Editing this article to fix a link, I cannot prevent it from being re-publicized on Linked In, so I want to reassure readers that at this time (February 2014) I am pregnant. Dizziness and low blood pressure have been less of a problem for me this time around, probably because I followed my own advice from the beginning this time!]
I’m not–but when I was pregnant, I was dizzy much of the time. At every prenatal check-up, my blood pressure was lower than the time before, and I have lower-than-average blood pressure normally.
My midwife was unconcerned, and all the pregnancy books agreed that it’s high blood pressure that is dangerous. Some of the books confirmed that my dizziness was caused by low blood pressure and explained that the low blood pressure was caused by my body making the placenta and transferring water to the baby and thus spreading my fluids through a larger circulatory system than before–but they didn’t tell me what to do about it! My midwife kept saying that all I needed to do was be grateful that baby and I were in no danger.
In the fifth month, I began to have spells when my vision would go black, my ears would ring so that I could hardly hear, and sometimes I’d completely lose consciousness for a few seconds. That seemed dangerous to me! In particular, it was worrisome because it almost always happened on my way to work in the morning and was always followed by vomiting, and I commute by public transit. If I was on the bus when my vision or hearing started to go, I would get off as quickly as possible to avoid vomiting in the bus. (If you live on Forbes Avenue, I am sorry about your flower beds.) Well, it is risky to walk down the aisle of a moving bus when you are dizzy and blind!!! If I had fainted while doing that, I would surely have fallen, and that could injure me and maybe even harm the baby.
I went to my primary care doctor, and he took this seriously and prescribed a solution: thigh-high compression stockings. You cannot buy these in regular stores. I filled in a form with several measurements of my legs and mailed it along with my prescription to a medical supply company, which then mailed me two pairs of stockings in my size. I wore them every day for the rest of my pregnancy, every winter day while breastfeeding, and occasionally after that when I felt especially weak or dizzy, until they finally wore out and stopped staying up about six years later.
You see, when you are upright blood tends to pool in your legs, especially when you have an unusually large uterus pressing on the veins that bring the blood back up to your heart. If you compress your legs with compression stockings, there is less space for blood in your legs, so more blood is available to sustain your brain and prevent it from powering-down your vision, hearing, or consciousness. Thigh-high stockings do not, however, compress your tummy, which would be dangerous during pregnancy as well as uncomfortable. They stay up using silicone dots which stick to your thighs and leave little indentations, but they’re pretty comfortable once you get used to them after about ten minutes of wearing them. I could wear one pair of stockings for two days before they started to smell sweaty. Then I would wash them with regular bath soap while I was in the shower, hang them up to dry, and wear the other pair.
My doctor also gave me some other advice for treating low blood pressure, two points of which are more controversial, so discuss them with your medical professional before trying them:
- Drink more liquids. Yeah, right! I was very queasy all the time in Months 2-3 and some of the time in Months 4-8, and one of my main triggers was having liquid in my stomach, especially cold liquid in any significant amount. Being less than optimally hydrated surely was contributing to my low blood pressure, but I had a hard time making myself drink more or eat any watery foods such as lettuce or melon. I did the best I could. In the course of several experiences of staggering off the bus onto a university campus, I learned that the little store in the student center usually has some bottled drinks they haven’t yet put into the cooler, so I could ask them to sell me one of those instead of a cold one.
- Eat more salt. The way my doctor put it was, “If you feel like eating a salty food, have as much of it as you like.” This was the thing that most reliably perked me up when I got dizzy despite the stockings. Ramen noodles may not be the healthiest food in the world, but they made me feel so much better!
- Have some caffeine. Normally a daily coffee drinker, I had quit completely in Week 4 when it started to taste bad to me, and by Week 6 my nausea was so bad that I told my boss I was pregnant and she allowed me a totally flexible schedule, so I didn’t need to get up early in the morning and was drinking only an occasional cup of green tea when I felt listless at work. My doctor recommended that I drink coffee when I felt low, up to 2 cups a day, and when I tried I found that it tasted good again–in fact, when I needed help with my blood pressure, it tasted really good!
I have an additional piece of advice which you’ll also need to discuss with your medical professional: If you have low blood pressure and you are the kind of person who needs to eat very soon after getting up in the morning, consider skipping the Fasting Glucose Test or having it done after a fast of just a few hours instead of overnight. My midwife insisted that I get the FGT even though I had no symptoms of gestational diabetes. After fasting overnight, I did manage to stagger into the diagnostic lab and to drink the horrible orange syrup, but 20 minutes later my little Thumper freaked out (it felt like he was having a seizure in there; I was very worried) and then I had a reaction so dramatic and messy that when I returned to that lab seven years later for a different test, the tech remembered me!! I learned that it is possible to get a reliable FGT by having nothing but water for 3 hours after a meal, which was something I could easily do later in the day.
Compression stockings, salt, coffee, and no overnight fasting worked for me to control low blood pressure and its side effects during pregnancy! If you have other tips for low blood pressure, please share them in the comments.