High blood pressure is a leading cause of pregnancy complications. And unfortunately, there’s often no signs except for an elevated reading.
Once you’ve discovered you have high blood pressure, what should you do? How can you ensure it doesn’t impact your baby?
In this guide, you’ll learn the steps to take to treat and monitor high blood pressure in a pregnant woman.
What is High Blood Pressure in a Pregnant Woman?
High blood pressure, AKA hypertension, is a common problem for many Americans. During pregnancy, you might experience high blood pressure for the first time or your elevated readings may get even higher. High blood pressure can cause a host of problems, especially while you’re expecting.
Before we jump into the normal blood pressure for a pregnant woman, what’s blood pressure anyway?
Blood pressure refers to the force of blood moving through your arteries. When there’s too much force pushing through, you have high blood pressure. When the force of the blood is too weak, you have low blood pressure.
During pregnancy, high blood pressure can be classified as:
- Chronic hypertension.High blood pressure before pregnancy—or high blood pressure that happens before 20 weeks—and doesn’t go away after delivery.
- Gestational hypertension.High blood pressure that happens after 20 weeks of pregnancy and typically goes back to normal after delivery. Gestational hypertension happens in about 3 in 50 pregnancies.
Both chronic and gestational hypertension can get worse and lead to the complications outlined in the next section.
Why It Matters: High Blood Pressure in Pregnant Women
High blood pressure can be managed and lead to a normal, healthy pregnancy. However, if high blood pressure in a pregnant woman can’t be controlled, it can lead to complications.
- Preeclampsia. Preeclampsiais marked by high blood pressure with signs of organ damage (kidneys, liver, etc.). Preeclampsia can be mild to life-threatening. It requires treatment so it doesn’t worsen. If it does, it can lead to eclampsia, which can cause seizures and coma. It may also lead to HELLP syndrome, a serious condition that affects the blood and liver. According to research, gestational hypertension-preeclampsia is the most common disorder of pregnancy.
- Heart Problems. Increased stress on your organs can lead to heart problems like heart attack, heart failure, or stroke.
- Kidney Failure.High blood pressure can also add more stress to your kidneys, possibly resulting in kidney failure.
- Placental Abruption.High blood pressure can lead to abnormal bleeding, causing the placenta to detach from the uterus wall. Studies show that the risk of abruption is strongly associated with chronic hypertension.
- Birth Complications.Besides being more likely to have a cesarean birth (C-section), high blood pressure can lead to a host of other complications. That includes abnormal growth, premature birth, and low birthweight.
- Although rare, high blood pressure can contribute to fetal and neonatal death. It can also lead to maternal death. In fact, heart and blood vessel diseases—like high blood pressure disorders—are the leading cause of pregnancy-related deaths.
To learn more, read High Blood Pressure in Pregnancy: 5 Dangerous Complications
High Blood Pressure When Pregnant: Symptoms
Many people don’t experience high blood pressure pregnancy symptoms. However, those that do report a few common signs.
To learn more, read: 7 Pregnant High Blood Pressure Symptoms to Monitor
What Is Normal Blood Pressure for a Pregnant Woman?
Although you may have symptoms of high blood pressure, many people don’t. The only way some detect the issue is through routine blood pressure readings.
To get a blood pressure reading, you’ll need to use a manual or self-inflating blood pressure monitor. Although this is a routine test during check-ups, it’s a good idea to have one at home too.
A blood pressure monitor gives you two numbers
- Systolic blood pressure (the first/upper number). This reading is taken when your heart beats, meaning blood pressure is at its highest.
- Diastolic blood pressure (the second/lower). This reading is taken between heart beats, meaning your blood pressure is at its lowest.
What is normal blood pressure for a pregnant woman? Below are the classifications for pregnant blood pressure ranges according to the National Institutes of Health’s Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee.
- Hypotension (low): <90 mmHg and <60 mmHg
- Normal: 90-120 mmHg and/or 60-80 mmHg
- Prehypertension (slightly high): 120-139 mmHg and/or 80-89 mmHg
- Hypertension Stage 1 (high): 140-159 mmHg and/or 90-99 mmHg
- Hypertension Stage 2 (high): >160 mmHg and/or >100 mmHg
What To Do: High Blood Pressure and Pregnant People
If you find out you have high blood pressure during a prenatal checkup, your doctor will direct you on the next steps to manage your condition. If you’ve received a high blood pressure reading at home, the first step is to notify your doctor. They can confirm the reading and provide a treatment plan.
Below are the general steps you should take and options to manage high blood pressure for pregnant people.
Talk To Your Doctor
When you have high blood pressure, it’s important to talk to your doctor. Depending on your condition and pregnancy, they’ll recommend the most appropriate treatment options. Your doctor can also determine how serious your condition is. For example, if your blood pressure is consistently very high, they may suggest more frequent check-ups to limit the impact it has on your pregnancy.
Home Blood Pressure Monitoring
Whether or not you have high blood pressure, it’s a good idea to monitor your blood pressure at home. Since the condition may happen without warning, having a blood pressure monitor on hand means you can catch it when it happens.
For those with hypertension, a home blood pressure monitor is even more important. Doctors often recommend these to patients because it allows them to track whether their condition is getting better or worse. Instead of waiting until your next prenatal appointment, you can catch sudden spikes when they happen, possibly minimizing pregnancy complications.
One UK study concluded that home monitoring during pregnancy may reduce blood pressure hospital visits by 50%. Authors say it’s likely safe and reduces costs of care.
Using a blood pressure cuff at home is easy. Make sure to follow the instructions for your model. Below is a general step-by-step:
- Use the Velcro straps to place the cuff about 1 inch above your elbow.
- For manual models, squeeze the bulb to inflate the cuff. For automatic models, press button for inflation and to start reading.
- Relax your arm straight on a table until reading is displayed.
- Deflate cuff manually or wait for automatic deflation.
Get a Home Blood Pressure Monitoring Kit Today!
As your pregnancy progresses, high blood pressure can cause more complications. It’s a good idea to monitor fetal movement even if your blood pressure is good. If your blood pressure readings are elevated, it’s extra important.
Counting kicks lets you know that, despite your high blood pressure, your baby is moving normally. If movement reduces or stops, it could be a sign that there’s a blood pressure-related complication. In this case, you should seek medical attention ASAP.
Count kicks easily using the BabyDoppler app and read: How To Count Baby Kicks: The Full Guide
High Blood Pressure Medication for Pregnancy
In some cases, doctors recommend blood pressure medication for pregnancy. However, not all drugs used to treat the condition are safe to take while expecting. For example, doctors don’t typically recommend renin inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers, and angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors. These medications can transfer to your baby, potentially causing developmental problems. If you’re taking any of these medications before pregnancy, your doctor will likely switch you to a safer option. (Never stop taking a medication without talking to your doctor first).
The three most commonly used high blood pressure medications for pregnancy include:
- Labetalol (Normodyne, Trandate)
- Nifedipine (Procardia, Adalat)
- Methyldopa (Aldomet)
Physical activity may lower the risk of disorders related to high blood pressure in pregnant people. One study showed that resistance training (AKA strength training) can reduce systolic blood pressure by about 4.1 mmHg. Examples of resistance training include exercises using:
- Elastic/resistance bands
- Weight machines
Unless your doctor has told you otherwise, exercise during pregnancy is generally considered safe. Whether you’re a beginner or expert athlete, work at a normal intensity for you. As a general rule, don’t push yourself to the point where you’re too winded to hold a conversation.
Avoid Too Much Salt
Aim to eat a balanced diet. Most specifically for blood pressure, limit your salt intake. This means avoiding or limiting canned or processed foods. Premade meals, sauces, salad dressings, crackers, and chips all have a high sodium content that can lead to spiked blood pressure.
Perhaps the hardest to control on this list, it’s a good idea to manage your stress. A stressful day may be unlikely to impact your health. But long-term, chronic stress can be another factor contributing to high blood pressure. While there’s many ways to control stress, consider these ideas:
- Mindfulness techniques (like meditation)
- Scheduling daily activities you enjoy, find relaxing or fun
- Keep to a consistent sleep schedule
- Create boundaries in tough relationships or make a plan to leave toxic ones
- Try yoga, stretching or Tai Chi
- Invest time in a spiritual or religious practice that makes you feel connected
- Learn how to ask for/accept help when you need it
Need more ideas? Read 10 Proven Ways to Lower Cortisol for a Healthier Fetus
Don’t Smoke or Drink
Although smoking and drinking are a no-no during pregnancy, there’s another reason to avoid it: It’s bad for your blood pressure. Smoking and drinking can narrow your blood vessels and make your heart beat faster, increasing blood pressure.
Summary: High Blood Pressure and Pregnant People
When it comes to high blood pressure and pregnant people, your first step is to talk to your doctor. They will help you determine the best ways to manage your condition. While they may prescribe medication, they’ll also likely suggest lifestyle modifications, like eating less salt and getting more exercise. Since high blood pressure is a leading cause of pregnancy compilations, it’s important to monitor your health at home. Investing in a home blood pressure cuff will let you know if your condition worsens, prompting you to seek medical attention, limiting complications.