Are you pregnant and experiencing unexplained dizziness, and wondering what it might mean for you or your baby?
There are several symptoms you expect to experience when you’re pregnant, but dizziness isn’t one that’s frequently discussed — even though it’s an experience that’s common to many expectant mothers.
In this article, we will discuss why you’re feeling dizzy, what steps you could take to combat it, and how to know when you need to seek medical attention.
What Causes Dizziness While Pregnant?
There are lots of changes happening in your body when you’re pregnant, so there could be a number of causes for your dizziness.
Here are the main ones:
1. Low Blood Pressure
Early in your pregnancy, hormones dilate your blood vessels in order to deliver sufficient blood to your baby (1). However, a combination of the blood volume in your body which hasn’t yet caught up with the expanded circulatory system and the increased amount going to your uterus causes your blood pressure to be lower than normal. This can result in reduced blood flow to your brain, which can cause you to feel temporarily dizzy, especially when standing up or changing your position quickly. Some women have varicose veins and many develop them during their pregnancy, and these can contribute to the occurrence of dizziness throughout your pregnancy.
2. Low Blood Sugar
When you’re struggling with pregnancy nausea, morning sickness, or food aversions, it can be tough to eat the number of calories necessary to sustain your body — especially when your nausea is persistent and severe. During pregnancy your metabolism goes through changes too, so your doctor will routinely do tests for gestational diabetes mellitus. A drop in blood sugar can cause dizziness, sweating, shakiness, and lightheadedness, and if this happens in conjunction with vomiting, it can make the experience even more miserable.
3. Restricted Blood Flow
As your belly grows, your uterus may start to put pressure on your internal blood vessels, restricting blood flow. That is why when you lie on your back during the third trimester you might experience dizziness and why you should avoid exercises that involve lying on your back (2).
4. Poor Sleeping Position
If you sleep on your back late in pregnancy, you put extra pressure on the large blood vessel that carries blood from your lower body back to your heart, which can cause you to feel extreme dizziness until you reposition yourself and the blood flow is restored.
You’re walking around with a little heater in your abdomen, and it doesn’t take much to tip you over the edge, especially if you find yourself in a stuffy place (3). Getting overheated can cause you to feel lightheaded and possibly pass out.
It’s easy to get dehydrated when you’re pregnant, especially if you can’t keep much down due to vomiting or your frequent trips to the bathroom. Unfortunately, dehydration can also contribute to overheating and feelings of dizziness and lightheadedness.
Preeclampsia, a condition 3-7% of women develop later in pregnancy, can cause dizziness. Preeclampsia should be taken seriously because it can cause severe complications for both mother and baby, including the possibility of death. If you experience dizziness, remember that most cases of it aren’t caused by preeclampsia.
Still, be on the lookout if you experience other symptoms together with dizziness after 20 weeks of gestation, including headache or abdominal pain, changes in your vision, peeing a lot less than usual, fast and significant weight gain, and particularly if you have a history of chronic medical conditions such as hypertension and diabetes, if this is your first pregnancy and if you are pregnant with multiples (4).
During pregnancy, your body needs to make more blood in order to support your needs and the needs of your baby. If you’re not getting enough iron, folate or cobalamin in your diet, your body might not be able to produce the number of red blood cells it needs to make this extra blood and might not be producing enough hemoglobin which is a protein inside your red blood cells responsible for oxygen transport (5).
Over 50% of pregnant women suffer from anemia. It’s not unusual to have a slight degree of anemia in pregnancy even when you take in enough nutrients; however, severe anemia can lead to dizziness from not getting enough oxygenated blood to your brain, especially when standing up. Severe anemia can also pose a serious threat to both you and your baby so make sure you follow your healthcare provider’s advice.
If you are experiencing severe nausea and vomiting during your pregnancy, your doctor might have prescribed you with some medicine to manage those symptoms. If after taking those you start feeling dizzy – make sure you let your doctor know as some of these drugs can cause dizziness and your doctor can switch your medication to avoid this adverse effect.
Editor's Note:Dr. Irena Ilic, MD
How Can I Prevent Dizziness During Pregnancy?
There are several things you can do to try and prevent dizziness while pregnant.
Some of these things are:
- Stay hydrated: Drink water throughout the day to ensure you stay properly hydrated. It’s recommended you drink 8 to 10 glasses of water per day, or enough to keep your urine clear or very light yellow (6). Adjust this amount if it’s hot outside or if you are exercising. Remember that besides water what also counts into your fluid intake is milk, yogurt, smoothies, juice, tea, coffee. Avoid alcoholic and sugar-loaded drinks, and limit your daily caffeine intake to less than 200mg (7). It may be daunting to try to increase your fluids when you feel like you’re already running to the bathroom every 10 minutes, but after a few days of increased water intake, your body will adjust and you won’t find yourself needing to pee with such urgency so frequently.Maintaining proper hydration can help you combat other common pregnancy symptoms including fatigue, constipation, hemorrhoids, and swelling/water retention.If frequent peeing starts being an increasing discomfort for you, try avoiding caffeinated beverages and not taking too many fluids right before you go to bed. Another thing that women complain about is the feeling of their bladder not being completely empty after you pee. Try this trick: while sitting on the toilet gently rock forward and backward so that the pressure of the uterus on your bladder can change and you can avoid that feeling of not having peed enough.
Editor's Note:Dr. Irena Ilic, MD
- Don’t over-do it on the exercise: Working out too hard can cause you to become lightheaded and also to overheat. While exercise during pregnancy is considered healthy and generally recommended, it’s important to listen to your body and not overwork yourself.
- Sleep on your left side: Blood flow to your baby is optimal when you sleep on your left side. If you have trouble getting comfortable, try using a pregnancy pillow to cradle your stomach, cushion your hip, or place it between your knees to help prop them up and keep them from putting pressure on your back and hips.
- Eat small, frequent meals: Keeping your blood sugar levels stable throughout the day can help prevent them from dropping quickly, which can cause lightheadedness. A balanced diet will help you fight constipation and eating regularly will also prevent your stomach from emptying completely. If you struggle with pregnancy nausea, an empty stomach can cause queasiness and make it more difficult to keep new contents down, exacerbating your risk of suffering from low blood sugar and related dizziness.
- Get enough fresh air: Avoid overheating by staying out of crowded rooms or reducing public transport time when it’s hot outside. The same goes for taking long hot baths or showers.
- Wear loose clothing: Poor or restricted circulation can contribute to dizziness. When dressing, choose clothes that won’t restrict your circulation or cause you to overheat. Choose breathable fabrics that aren’t overly tight. While belly panels of maternity clothes fit snugly against your skin, they should not feel tight, uncomfortable, or leave deep marks when you take them off. Also don’t forget your undergarments shouldn’t be too tight, either — particularly your bra. Your rib cage and breasts expand throughout pregnancy, so switch to a larger bra size if you find it starts to get uncomfortable and cut off blood flow.
- Get up slowly: When moving from a lying or sitting position to a standing position, do so slowly so your circulatory system has time to catch up. It’s perfectly fine to hold on to a wall or some other object for support when getting up, giving yourself time to adjust to the change. When you stand up, blood pools in your legs, which can cause a temporary drop in blood pressure and subsequent dizziness. This is exacerbated by your widened blood vessels during pregnancy.
- Don’t stand for long periods: Change your position regularly. If you have to stay on your feet, move around often, and keep your knees bent to keep the blood flowing. After being on your legs for a while, grab a chance to lie down and elevate your legs.
- Wear compression stockings: Compression stockings help with swollen feet and varicose veins, but can also help with dizziness by creating less space in the legs for blood to pool, leaving more blood available for the upper body, including the brain.
- Take iron supplements: The most common cause of dizziness due to anemia is iron deficiency. Take a prenatal vitamin, which contains extra iron. If you are still anemic, talk to your doctor or midwife about a pregnancy-friendly iron supplement that doesn’t cause constipation. Some recommendations suggest starting iron supplements right from your first prenatal visit (8). This will help improve dizziness caused by anemia.
If you have had gastric bypass surgery and you are pregnant and dizzy – you might be anemic, but the reason behind your anemia might actually be a cobalamin deficiency, and in that case your doctor will prescribe appropriate therapy.
Editor's Note:Dr. Irena Ilic, MD
How to Keep Safe When You Feel Dizzy
If you’re actively dizzy or regularly struggle with dizziness, there are some steps you can take to keep yourself safe and avoid falling.
- Sit down: If you feel dizzy, don’t try to power through the episode. Sit or even lie down until the feeling passes, take some deep breaths, and then get up slowly.
- Eat or drink something: For the fastest relief in case that your dizziness is caused by low blood sugar, choose a high-sugar or high-carb snacks like a piece of fruit, candy, a bottle of juice, or granola bar. You can also carry some of those snacks with you just in case.
- Hold onto something for stability: If you’re not prone to passing out but struggle with dizziness, hold onto a table or chair when standing for balance.
- Avoid driving: If you find yourself experiencing dizziness often, avoid driving for some time until you feel fit for it again.
When Should I See a Doctor?
Your doctor keeps a close eye on your blood pressure and other vital signs at your regular prenatal visits. Be sure to tell them about any dizziness you’re experiencing so they can monitor your symptoms, but in most cases, it’s not essential to notify them outside of your regularly scheduled appointments. Ideally, during your regular visits, your healthcare provider will inform you about how to cope with and prevent dizziness and this will help keep unnecessary worries at bay.
However, if you find yourself fainting or losing consciousness, you need to contact your doctor without delay. They may check you for anemia and check your blood pressure and blood glucose levels to see if any of those may be causing it. If you are dizzy and feeling your heart race and have pain in your abdomen or chest, or you notice severe swelling or vaginal bleeding – call your doctor right away (9).
You should also call the doctor if your dizziness is accompanied by a headache and blurred vision.