“I had been working from home and I remember getting up from bed. I had to catch myself against the wall as my knee buckled,” recalls Jasvinder Sandhu, who was six months pregnant at the time with her second child. “My eyes went black and I thought I was going to faint.”
She thankfully didn’t faint. “Fortunately, my mother-in-law was also there, and she brought me some crackers and soda,” recalls Sandhu. She immediately called her doctor, who told her to relax and take it easy.
Sandhu had also experienced dizziness early in her first pregnancy, after spending long hours working at her desk as a lawyer in Toronto. “I felt more worry the first time,” she says. “What if there’s something wrong with me, what if there’s something wrong with the baby?”
Dizziness during pregnancy is actually quite normal and can often be treated and prevented with lifestyle changes. Here’s what you need to know.
The cause of dizziness during pregnancy can depend on which trimester you are in, explains Nicole Todd, an obstetrician at the B.C. Women’s Hospital & Health Centre in Vancouver. During the first trimester, dizziness could be related to morning sickness. Pregnant women often can’t keep food or liquids down and feel weak and dizzy as a result, explains Todd.
In the second and third trimester, a lot of changes happen in your body to accommodate the growing baby, including a 30 to 50 percent increase in your blood volume. But the amount of hemoglobin, a protein responsible for delivering oxygen to the cells, doesn’t keep up with that increase in blood volume, Todd says. This can lead to anemia—when your body doesn’t have enough iron to make hemoglobin—which can make you feel dizzy or weak. Your OB or midwife will often notice your low hemoglobin levels when you have your regular bloodwork done, and typically it’s treated with iron supplements.
Another reason for feeling faint during pregnancy is dehydration says Robyn Berman, a midwife with IWK Community Midwives. Pregnant women need to stay hydrated because fluid is essential for the development of the baby. But things like morning sickness, aversions and just being busy mean women often don’t drink enough.
Throughout pregnancy, women may also experience dizziness as a result of their veins relaxing, which happens due to a rise in hormones. “Along with changes in blood volume, a lot of blood vessels dilate and become more distended,” says Todd. “It can be difficult for blood to go from the legs to the heart to the brain and back to the baby,” she says. This lag causes you to feel dizzy when you stand up too quickly.
Women can experience dizziness differently during their pregnancy. “You can be dizzy but also feel weak; other women feel the room is spinning and feel nauseous,” says Todd. “Others associate dizziness with a merry-go-round feeling.” Berman adds dizziness can also involve some visual changes—seeing stars, for example—and feeling like you might fall to the ground or lose balance.
If you experience dizziness during pregnancy, the best thing to do is quickly find a place to sit or lie down for about five minutes, then try to slowly get up, says Berman.
Once the dizziness has passed, have a drink and a small snack. Todd recommends a piece of fruit, which is not only healthy but will give you a quick release of sugar. For some women, feeling faint can be symptomatic of changes in their blood glucose, says the OB. Feeling light-headed can be a sign of gestational diabetes, so it’s important to mention your symptoms to your doctor or midwife.
On hot days, move to a cool, shaded area and stay out of the heat. Make sure you’re keeping hydrated.
A long, warm bath or shower can also make you feel dizzy. Berman recommends adding cooler water to your bath or shower and placing a cold cloth on your forehead if you feel light-headed.
Take time to rise slowly if you’ve been sitting for a while or lying down in bed. Todd says women need to be careful not to rush into any changes in movement.
Berman says lying flat on your back may also cause dizziness in pregnancy because the weight of your uterus puts pressure on the blood vessel called the vena cava. Normally it returns blood to the heart and lungs for oxygenation, but the added pressure can disrupt the flow and make you feel faint. “Pregnant women should choose a different sleeping position to avoid this sensation,” she says. It’s recommended that you try to sleep on your left side.
Try to avoid standing for long periods of time, but if your job or lifestyle prevents that, take breaks and move around. This will engage the blood vessels in your legs and help pump blood back to the heart. Todd says compression stockings can also help provide comfort and improve circulation for women during pregnancy.
Mention any feelings of dizziness to your doctor or midwife during your regular appointments. “That way we can help you figure out if there's something more complicated going on,” Todd says.
Often dizziness is just a normal pregnancy symptom, but in some instances it can be a sign of a larger issue.
“Pregnancy is a huge undertaking for the body,” says Todd. “Pre-existing heart conditions such as heart murmurs or problems with heart rate can worsen a woman’s experience of dizziness.” She recommends women with these conditions see their physician prior to getting pregnant.
If you experience chest pain, difficulty breathing or fainting, go to the emergency room, says Todd.
And even though it’s difficult, remember that in most cases feeling light-headed isn’t a cause for concern.
“Try not to be worried!” says Berman. “Talk to your primary care provider about prevention. If they are concerned about your condition, the proper assessments and evaluations will follow suit.”
Despite Sandhu’s dizzy spells, everything was fine with her pregnancy and she is now the proud mom of a healthy and happy baby.
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