Are you pregnant? Are you 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.
If you’re wondering why you’re feeling dizzy, what steps you could take to combat it, and how to know when you need to seek medical attention, read on. We’ve got everything you need to know to survive dizziness during pregnancy.
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, your blood vessels widen to deliver sufficient blood to your baby (source). However, the volume of blood in your body hasn’t caught up with the expanded circulatory system, causing 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 rising quickly.
2. Low Blood Sugar
When you’re struggling with pregnancy nausea, morning sickness, or food aversions, it can be tough to eat the amount of calories necessary to sustain your body — especially when your nausea is persistent and severe. A drop in blood sugar can cause dizziness 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. This can also contribute to dizziness later in pregnancy.
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 (source). 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 or you try to limit your water intake to reduce your frequent trips to the bathroom. Unfortunately, dehydration can also contribute to overheating and feelings of dizziness and lightheadedness.
Preeclampsia, a condition some 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.
During pregnancy, your body needs to make more blood to support your needs and the needs of your baby. If you’re not getting enough iron or folate in your diet, your body might not be able to produce the number of red blood cells it needs to make this extra blood.
It’s normal 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.
How to 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 (source). 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.
- 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 (source). 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. 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.
- 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 your pregnancy, so switch to a larger 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. 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 relaxed blood vessels during pregnancy.
- Don’t stand for long periods: Change your position regularly. If you have to stay on your feet, move them often and keep your knees bent to keep the blood flowing.
- Wear compression stockings: Compression stockings help with swelling 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. This will help improve dizziness caused by anemia.
In my experience, dizziness while lying flat is extremely common and is more dangerous than one might imagine. Not only does lying flat late in pregnancy cause dizziness but it interferes with the circulation to the uterus and decreases the blood supply to the baby. If you can’t lie on your left side, your right side is acceptable versus trying to lie on your back. Pillows to support the hips and uterus are a real plus.
Editor's Note:Christine Traxler, MD, BS
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, and then get up slowly.
- Eat or drink something: For the fastest relief if your dizziness is caused by low blood sugar, choose a high-sugar or high-carb snacks like a piece of candy, bottle of juice, or granola bar.
- 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.
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.
However, if you find yourself fainting or losing consciousness, it’s a good idea to contact your doctor. They may check you for anemia to see if that may be causing it.
You should also call the doctor if your dizziness is accompanied by a headache and blurred vision (source).
Take Action If
Dizziness is a common symptom of pregnancy and is rarely an indication there is a medical problem. Most dizziness subsides after the first trimester, but sometimes persists throughout the entire pregnancy.
During pregnancy, dizziness can be caused by:
- Low blood pressure.
- Low blood sugar.
- Restricted blood flow.
- Poor sleeping position.
While dizziness itself isn’t dangerous, if it causes you to lose your balance or fall, you can get hurt, or it can result in harm to your baby.
You can usually combat dizziness and lightheadedness by:
- Maintaining proper hydration.
- Avoiding overexertion.
- Sleeping on your left side.
- Eating small, frequent meals.
- Wearing loose clothing.
- Getting up slowly from sitting or standing.
- Staying off your feet for long periods.
- Trying compression stockings.
Did you suffer from dizziness while pregnant? What are some of the top tips that helped you keep your balance? Tell us in the comments, and share this with an expectant mama who needs to know so she can keep herself safe.