Hypertension (AKA high blood pressure) is the most common medical disorder during pregnancy.
It’s estimated to affect 6 to 8% of pregnancies. It’s also responsible for about 12% of maternal deaths.
With those facts, you may be worried if you’ve been told you have high blood pressure. Luckily, it’s possible to have a successful pregnancy with high blood pressure—most do.
In this post, we’re telling you about 5 ways of treating high blood pressure when pregnant.
Treating High Blood Pressure When Pregnant
It’s important to treat high blood pressure during pregnancy because it can have life-threatening consequences for both you and your baby. To read why, check out 5 Dangerous Complications of High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy.
Here are 5 ways a doctor may recommend treating high blood pressure when pregnant.
#1 Schedule an Appointment and Attend Each One
Since high blood pressure and preeclampsia don’t always have symptoms, it can be extra dangerous. However, if you know or suspect you have high blood pressure, your first step is making an appointment with your doctor. Some people have high blood pressure before pregnancy. Knowing this is the case, you should tell your doctor as soon as you can. Even if you’re just planning on conceiving, getting advice from your doctor beforehand can give you the best chances at a successful pregnancy.
If you have a blood pressure home monitoring kit, you may be alerted that your reading is different than normal. Or you may notice signs like:
- Severe and ongoing headaches
- Shortness of breath
- Abdominal pain (usually in the upper right area)
- Vision changes or problems
Letting your doctor know about high blood pressure is important because it allows them to tailor the appointment for your needs. Although your doctor will check your blood pressure in any case, they will likely check more often if they know you have a history of problems.
They also may closely monitor your baby with more frequent ultrasounds and fetal doppler sessions. You can expect tips on what complications to look out for. For example, you may be asked to monitor or record your baby’s movements, such as kicks.
Keep in mind that high blood pressure means you have a higher risk pregnancy. For that reason, you should be sure not to miss appointments so your doctor can catch any abnormalities ASAP.
When it comes to treating high blood pressure when pregnant, your first question may be whether you can use medication. While there are some options, many high blood pressure medications are not considered safe to use while you’re expecting.
Renin inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers and angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors are typically recommended against. That’s because they go through the bloodstream, transferring it to your baby, potentially impacting development. If your doctor decides you need medication, they will decide the safest option.
Labetalol, methyldopa and slow release nifedipine are typically the safest blood pressure medications prescribed for pregnant women. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends against beta-blockers.
If you’re already taking medication for high blood pressure and it’s become well-controlled, your doctor may continue it during pregnancy (unless it’s an angiotensin II receptor blocker or another potentially harmful drug to the fetus).
If you have chronic hypertension and need to restart medication while you’re expecting, methyldopa is typically the first choice.
If you’re having trouble remembering to take your medication, here’s a hack: Set an alarm for the same time every day and try to match it to a daily activity, like eating breakfast or watching your favorite show. Over time, the activity should cue your memory to take the medication.
Side Effects of High Blood Pressure Medication During Pregnancy
Side effects of high blood pressure medication depend on which one you’re taking. We’ll go over the 2 most popular options: Labetalol and methyldopa.
Side effects of labetalol during pregnancy include:
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- Tingling skin or scalp
- Upset stomach
- Stuffy nose
Side effects of methyldopa during pregnancy include:
- Muscle weakness
- Upset stomach
- Dry mouth
It’s important to take the medication as directed. If you’re experiencing side effects and want to quit the drug, it’s critical to talk to your doctor first.
#3 Physical Activity
Research shows that exercise may lower the risk of high blood pressure disorders, including preeclampsia, during pregnancy. Some people think that physical activity during pregnancy poses a risk to the baby—but that’s a myth for most pregnant women. As long as you’re working at your normal level of intensity and don’t overdo it, exercise can actually be good for your baby.
If you already follow a workout regime, keep it up at a comfortable pace. If not, there’s many ways you can move your body that don’t involve the gym. Even if you don’t like exercise, ask yourself how you can make it enjoyable. For example, combine a physical activity with:
- Watching TV
- Listening to empowering music
- Listening to an audiobook (download Audible or if you have a library card, download Libbyfor free)
- Listening to a podcast
If you’re new to exercise, start small. Instead of aiming to go on a run every day, aim to go for a short walk daily, then build your way up. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Doing a YouTube dance tutorial
- Speed cleaning
- Short, low-impact pregnancy HITT workout
Studies have also shown that resistance training can lower blood pressure. Since it’s easier to do than cardio, pregnant patients may be more willing to do it.
Resistance training exercises a muscle or a group of muscles using external resistance, such as a band, dumbbells or even your own weight. By repeating the same exercise, you’ll gain strength and endurance over time. If you don’t know where to begin, search for some resistance training pregnancy workouts on YouTube. Even if you don’t have any equipment at home, you can choose a routine that uses only body weight.
Keep in mind these are general recommendations and you should talk to your doctor before starting any exercise regime.
#4 Eat Healthy and Minimize Salt
Eating healthy and getting exercise are the 2 most common lifestyle changes recommend for medical conditions. Although it’s a simple suggestion, it can be hard to put into practice if you have bad habits.
For high blood pressure in particular, you want to avoid foods that are high in salt. That’s because salt can increase the amount of blood in your arteries, raising your blood pressure. Although one saltless meal likely won’t make a difference, cutting down over time can better your condition. Since salt is so common in our diets, it can be hard to avoid. The first step is to become aware of which foods have the highest sodium content:
- Processed meats
- Canned food or soups
- Premade sauces, condiments or dressings
- Premade meals
- Crackers, potato chips, etc.
Get used to checking the nutrition label when you buy a food to see how much sodium is in each serving. When you can, choose options with little or no sodium added. Since packaged foods tend to be high in salt, plan to make food at home more often.
If you’re having trouble staying away from a high-salt food, brainstorm some replacements. For example, most canned vegetables can be bought in its healthier frozen form. If you typically use a lot of salt when cooking, try using herbs or spices instead.
#5 Keep Calm
Keeping calm is easier said than done, especially during pregnancy when it can feel like you have a billion things to do and prepare for. Still, stress is known to contribute to high blood pressure.
While we don’t want to make you stressed about stress, this list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning how your mental health can affect your physical health. Although it’s impossible to completely get rid of daily anxieties, there’s many things you can try to lower it. Need ideas? Check out Stressed Out? 10 Proven Ways to Lower Cortisol for a Healthier Fetus and Pregnancy Stress + COVID-19: 15 Ways to Reduce Panic.
How to Monitor Your High Blood Pressure
The first step to monitoring your high blood pressure is letting your doctor know so they can form a plan. Besides that though, it’s helpful to monitor your own health at home between check-ups. There’s a few ways to do this:
- Blood pressure monitoring kit.The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends having a blood pressure cuff at home if you have high blood pressure. These are available at most drugstores and online. Since every model is different, read the instructions to see how to use it properly. You can also ask your doctor for tips.
- Fetal doppler.If you have hypertension, you may be constantly worried whether your baby is okay. Although fetal dopplers do not replace in-person appointments, they allow you to monitor your baby’s heartbeat through your journey. If you think you recognize any abnormalities, you can share your concern or the recording with your doctor for advice. They also make a wonderful bonding tool for the family.
- Monitor movements.Monitoring baby movements, such as kicks and turns, is another way to know whether your baby is okay. If you have high blood pressure and notice a sudden drop in movement, contact your doctor immediately.
Summary on Successful Pregnancy with High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure is common during pregnancy and it’s the most common reason for complications. Untreated, hypertension can lead to serious problems such as preeclampsia. The good news is that there’s a few things you can do to try to keep your blood pressure under control. Depending on your situation, your doctor may prescribe medication or lifestyle changes, such as exercise and diet changes.
P.S. Constantly worried if your baby is ok? Need some extra bonding? Try the Fetal Heartbeat Monitor!