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Pregnancy causes changes all throughout your body. While most of these changes are healthy and necessary, it’s important to be aware of any changes that could be harmful to you or your baby. That’s why regularly scheduled prenatal visits are standard practice — they help keep you and your little one well by monitoring your pregnancy closely, from the time you conceive through delivery.
At each routine checkup, your OB/GYN will monitor you and your baby in several ways. Keeping an eye on your blood pressure is an important part of ensuring your wellness.
Blood Pressure Changes During Pregnancy
A healthy blood pressure is measured at 120/80 mm Hg or below. When it’s elevated beyond those measurements — especially more than 140/80 mm Hg — you have high blood pressure (hypertension).
In your first two trimesters, your blood pressure tends to drop. Hormones released early in pregnancy make the blood vessels relax, reducing the pressure on your arteries. “Earlier on in pregnancy, you may also be more likely to experience dehydration, and that can lower blood pressure,” says AdventHealth board-certified OB/GYN, Michael Weiss , MD, FACOG .
At the start of your third trimester, however, it’s common for your blood pressure to begin to rise. At this point in pregnancy, your body has created a whole extra pint of blood to help support the pregnancy and has to work hard to pump all that blood. This naturally raises your blood pressure, but it may not be dangerous. It may be a temporary condition called gestational hypertension.
“If your blood pressure becomes elevated before your third trimester, it may be a sign you’re at risk for developing serious complications, such as preeclampsia,” explains Dr. Weiss.
Symptoms of High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy
Gestational hypertension usually has no noticeable symptoms. But more dangerous forms of high blood pressure may begin to affect how you feel during pregnancy.
If you had high blood pressure before pregnancy, you could be at risk for developing dangerously high blood pressure during your later stages of pregnancy and may experience symptoms, such as protein in your urine (this is checked during your prenatal appointments).
“The most dangerous form of high blood pressure during pregnancy is preeclampsia,” says Dr. Weiss, “which develops after 20 weeks of pregnancy.” Preeclampsia can damage your body, causing symptoms such as:
- Pain in your upper abdomen
- Poor liver function
- Protein in your urine
- Shortness of breath
- Sudden weight gain
- Swelling in your hands or feet
- Vision changes
You should always tell your doctor if you’re experiencing these symptoms, especially late in your pregnancy.
Preeclampsia’s Effect on Mom and Baby
While gestational hypertension needs to be monitored, it isn’t generally considered dangerous. However, preeclampsia can be life-threatening for both mother and baby.
For mothers, preeclampsia can cause damage to the organs — including the kidneys, heart, liver and brain — and increase your risk of heart disease in the future.
For babies, preeclampsia may cause:
- Low birth weight
- Premature birth
- Higher risk for infections
Your child may also require some extra care after birth to grow big and strong enough to go home safely.
Risk Factors for High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy
If you had high blood pressure before you became pregnant, it’s likely to continue to be a factor throughout your pregnancy. Other risk factors include:
- Being pregnant after age 40
- Family history of preeclampsia
- First-time pregnancy
- In vitro fertilization
- Multiple births (twins, triplets, etc.)
- Previous preeclampsia during pregnancy
You and your physician should be aware of your risk factors so you can develop a plan to monitor and manage your blood pressure.
Treatment for High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy
Dr. Weiss advises that “You can try to keep your blood pressure low during pregnancy by staying active and eating a healthy diet that’s low in salt.” Blood pressure medications may also be prescribed by your physician if they make sense for you and your baby.
But above all other courses of treatment, simply attending all of your prenatal appointments is most essential. Your doctor will keep a close eye on your blood pressure throughout your pregnancy to ensure you and your baby stay safe.
If you do experience preeclampsia, your doctor may recommend that you deliver your baby before your due date. Induction and early delivery may be the best choice if you’re experiencing organ damage or other complications.
Support Throughout Your Pregnancy
Becoming a mother is one of life’s greatest adventures. The caring team of gynecologists and obstetricians at AdventHealth Zephyrhills work with you every step of the way so you and your child can receive all the care you need. Learn more about our services for mothers and babies.