High blood pressure and pregnancy isn’t necessarily a dangerous combination. But having hypertension during pregnancy requires special care, irrespective of whether you are diagnosed with this problem before or after conception.
High blood pressure, medically known as hypertension, means the force of the blood that pushes against the walls of your arteries is too high. Blood pressure readings of 140/90 mm Hg is considered too high.
While hypertension can affect anyone, pregnant women are at an increased risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an increasing number of pregnant women in the United States suffer from hypertension. In fact, according to the American Pregnancy Association, high blood pressure affects about 6 to 8 percent of pregnant women.
During pregnancy, women can suffer from different types of high blood pressure, such as:
- Gestational hypertension that develops after 20 weeks of pregnancy
- Chronic hypertension that was present before pregnancy or that occurs before 20 weeks of pregnancy
- Chronic hypertension with superimposed preeclampsia that occurs in women with chronic high blood pressure before pregnancy
- Preeclampsia, a type of pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and signs of damage to another organ system.
There are several possible causes of high blood pressure during pregnancy, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. They include being overweight or obese, an inactive lifestyle, smoking, drinking alcohol, a first-time pregnancy, carrying more than one child, being age 40 or older, and having a family history of kidney disease, preeclampsia or chronic hypertension.
Using assistive technologies, such as in vitro fertilization, during the conception process also increases the risk of high blood pressure in a pregnant woman, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.
High blood pressure during pregnancy puts extra stress on your heart and kidneys, which in turn increase the risk of heart disease, kidney disease and strokes. Along with these, other complications may include fetal growth restriction, preterm delivery, placental abruption and cesarean delivery.
When suffering from hypertension during pregnancy, it is important to monitor your blood pressure level closely throughout the pregnancy. Managing your blood pressure can help you have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby. At the same time, ultrasound exams should be done frequently to track the growth of the baby in the womb.
Here are the top ways to lower your high blood pressure during pregnancy.
1. Monitor Your Salt Intake
Generally, when people with high blood pressure cut back on salt, their blood pressure falls. It even prevents blood pressure from rising.
A 2014 study published in Electrolytes & Blood Pressure shows that a reduction of dietary salt intake can decrease the number of deaths from hypertension, cardiovascular disease and strokes.
A 2016 study by McMaster University found that, contrary to popular thought, low-salt diets may not be beneficial and may actually increase the risk of cardiovascular disease and death compared to average salt consumption. The research suggests that the only people who need to worry about reducing sodium in their diet are those with hypertension who have high salt consumption.
Always remember that the body needs a small amount of sodium to work properly, but excess salt will only increase your blood pressure and your risk for heart disease or a stroke.
During pregnancy, you must keep a check on your salt intake to keep your blood pressure under control.
- Do not add lots of salt to foods when cooking. Use herbs and spices instead to add flavor to your dish.
- Avoid processed foods, fast food and sports drinks, which are high in sodium even if they don’t taste salty.
- Avoid canned foods as they are often high in sodium.
2. Try Controlled Breathing
Deep breathing is a popular relaxation technique that helps lower your stress levels and stabilize your blood pressure.
A 2005 study published in Hypertension found that slow breathing improves arterial baroreflex sensitivity and reduces blood pressure.
Moreover, every time you take in a deep breath, the well-oxygenated blood gets delivered to each and every cell in the body. This in turn provides energy and makes you feel good overall.
- Lie down comfortably on your back.
- Place your hands on your chest and below the rib cage.
- Slowly inhale through your nose so that you feel your stomach move up.
- Slowly exhale through your mouth by counting to 5, while keeping the abdominal muscles tight.
- Repeat 10 times and keep your breathing regular and slow.
- Practice deep breathing for 10 minutes, 2 or 3 times a day, to manage your blood pressure and keep your heart healthy.
3. Enjoy Walking
Inactive women are at a higher risk of hypertension during pregnancy than those who exercise. Walking is one of the best cardiovascular exercises for pregnant women.
Hypertensive pregnant women can lower their blood pressure by enjoying a brisk walk of 30 to 45 minutes on a daily basis. It is a safe activity to continue throughout all nine months of the pregnancy.
Also, it is one of the best ways to start exercising if you were fairly inactive before getting pregnant. Start with a slow walk and gradually increase your pace as well as the duration, from 20 to 60 minutes.
As an added bonus, regular walking ensures you are strong and have lots of endurance when it is time for delivery.
4. Increase Your Potassium Intake
Potassium is an important mineral during pregnancy. It helps maintain your fluid and electrolyte balance. It also aids in the transmission of nerve impulses, contraction of your muscles and the release of energy from carbohydrates, fat and protein.
An adequate amount of potassium also helps keep your blood pressure under control during pregnancy. In fact, potassium-rich foods should be a part of a hypertension-management diet, whether you are pregnant or not.
A 2015 study published in the Journal of Human Hypertension reports that increased potassium intake, on top of a relatively low-sodium diet, had a beneficial effect on blood pressure.
A pregnant woman should aim for 2,000 to 4,000 mg of potassium a day.
Some of the best potassium-rich foods are sweet potatoes, tomatoes, orange juice, potatoes, bananas, kidney beans, peas, cantaloupe, honeydew melon and dried fruits like prunes and raisins.
5. Eat Magnesium-Rich Foods
A diet low in magnesium may lead to high blood pressure. A 1999 study published in Hypertension reports that magnesium deficiency is linked to an elevation of blood pressure.
Another study published in 2011 in the Journal of the Indian Medical Association found that patients with gestational hypertension had significantly low mean magnesium levels.
This is why you should include magnesium-rich foods in your diet during pregnancy. Along with lowering your blood pressure, this mineral will help prevent the uterus from contracting prematurely. It also helps build strong teeth and bones in your baby.
The best way to get your daily dose of magnesium is through a healthy diet. You can get magnesium from foods like almonds, avocados, bananas, beans, pumpkin seeds, tofu, soy milk, cashews, potatoes (with the skin), yogurt, blackstrap molasses, whole grains and green leafy vegetables.