Did you know major circulation changes occur during pregnancy? Here's why: in a healthy, nonpregnant person, oxygenated blood flows easily from the heart to the rest of the body through arteries. Once deoxygenated, it moves back to the heart through the veins, repeating a cyclical loop. This involuntary process works seamlessly until we become pregnant - when a growing baby displaces organs & literally forces circulatory pathways to change their physical routes.
In addition to navigating around cramped & displaced organs, blood volume during pregnancy increases by nearly 50%. If you were to compare this phenomenon to your daily commute, that'd be the equivalent of throwing a hazard in the fast lane & more cars on the road. At the same time, blood cells during pregnancy are performing added tasks: namely filtering through the placenta to delivery nutrients to the baby & remove any waste left behind. Returning to our driving metaphor, that's like taking the hazard plus traffic and adding construction workers performing road repairs into the mix!
To keep up with these complex demands, your heart rate will raise (pumping more blood) and your veins will relax (allowing more blood to flow through them) causing blood pressure to decrease through the first half of pregnancy. Interestingly, it typically then rises again throughout the second. A nurse should take your blood pressure at each doctor's appointments to confirm you're on track.
So what's a girl to do?
Don't worry! Mild occurrences of some circulatory symptoms are normal during pregnancy & small little tweaks can help make them more bearable. Just listen to your body & keep your doctor informed of them if experienced so she can help you watch out for anything more serious. Here's some of the most common experienced:
A few things can cause dizziness during pregnancy, but the most likely culprit is low blood pressure. To avoid any serious bouts of spinning, take your time when rising. Rather than jumping out of a chair or bed at your normal pace, sit up gently at first allowing your blood volumes to adjust a bit more slowly. When sleeping, try not to lie on your back or right side. Those positions can compress the vein carrying blood from your lower body back up to your heart. Favor laying & sleeping on your left side as much as possible.
The same low blood pressure that can cause dizziness can also contribute to a general feeling of tiredness. Other causes of feeling "wiped out" can be anemia & hormonal changes. There's no silver bullet fix, but resting as much as possible can help. Load up on iron through the foods you eat (along with your prenatal vitamin) to help combat possible pregnancy-related anemia.
SWELLING (a.ka. EDEMA)
Swelling is one of the most common circulatory symptoms associated with pregnancy due to the increased blood volume & water retention occurring. Most often you'll notice it in your ankles and feet. While not exactly enjoyable it's usually nothing to worry about. Try propping your feet up whenever sitting, keep moving with gentle exercise, avoid crossing your legs while sitting, drink plenty of water and avoid excess salt. Loose-fitting, non-constricting clothing combined with maternity compression stockings can also help. By hugging the leg most tightly in the ankle & looser above, maternity support hose help excess fluid & blood move back upward from the feet towards the heart. This added support can also help prevent the development of varicose veins caused by pregnancy. Take breaks whenever possible to stretch and walk (especially on long drives or flights).
While the above symptoms are relatively common & manageable, the below blood-related conditions are more serious & can threaten the health of both mama & baby. If they do occur, work with your doctor to help manage them.
A preeclampsia diagnosis comes when a doctor finds high blood pressure and protein in your urine later in pregnancy. As mentioned above, it's common for Because this condition restricts blood flow, it can potential harm your organs & your baby's growth so is very serious. Depending on the severity of the condition, you may be put on bed rest, hospitalized, or even advised to delivery your baby early.
HYPERTENSION (CHRONIC OR GESTATIONAL)
Higher blood pressure (whether pregnant or not) puts you at increased risk of complications. While pregnant, hypertension can hinder the baby's growth, or lead to premature birth or stillbirth if left untreated. To help prevent it attend regular checkups, monitoring this personal stat. If hypertension does develop, your doctor may suggest a baby-safe medication. A healthy diet can help manage ongoing blood pressure increases so avoid sodium and load up on healthy fats, organic veggies, and lean proteins.
Blood clots most often develop in the legs, but can break loose & travel to the lungs or heart - making them extremely dangerous. During pregnancy, blood clots in the placenta can be a threat to your baby. To avoid them, enjoy mild exercise, stay hydrated, wear loose fitting non-constricting clothing on your legs, and be sure to wear maternity compression stockings when traveling. If you notice unilateral swelling (just in one leg), redness, pain, or hotness to the touch - talk to your doctor right away. Baby-safe blood clot anticoag are available, often including blood thinning medications.
To wrap it up, here's a recap of our favorite tips for protecting circulatory health during pregnancy:
- Wear loose fitting, non-constricting clothing.
- Do ones best not to strain, both with lifting and bowel movements (doing so causes unneeded stress on the veins).
- Elevate or prop the legs up when sitting. Add a little ankle rotation to the mix for even more relief!
- Consider water exercises that allow more free movements.
- Keep moving! Whether it is a light workout routine or a walk around the block it’ll help keep the veins pumping.
- Don’t gain too much weight. The extra pounds cause the circulatory system to work even harder.
- Invest in some maternity compression stockings. Knee highs, thigh highs, or even leggings - they’ll come in handy and aid in supporting circulation.
- Avoid standing for long periods of time.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
What pregnancy symptoms are you experiencing? Something we missed? Share with other mamas-to-be by commenting in the form below.