Are you pregnant and experiencing dizziness? Are you 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 we frequently discuss — even though it’s common for many expectant mothers.
We’ve consulted with medical experts to create this comprehensive guide. We’ll explain why you might be feeling dizzy and discuss how to know when you need to seek medical attention. We’ve also included a list of 10 tips to help you combat your dizziness during pregnancy and prevent falls.
What Causes Dizziness While Pregnant?
Many changes happen in your body when you’re pregnant, so there could be many causes for your dizziness.
Here are the main ones:
1. Low Blood Pressure
Early in your pregnancy, hormones dilate your blood vessels to deliver sufficient blood to your baby (1). However, your blood volume may not have caught up with your expanded circulatory system. Combine that with the increased amount of blood to your uterus, and your blood pressure can drop 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 before pregnancy, and many develop them during their pregnancy. These can also contribute to dizziness during 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 if your nausea is persistent and severe. Your metabolism goes through changes during pregnancy, 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. It is also 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, so 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 any of these other symptoms of preeclampsia along with dizziness after 20 weeks of gestation:
- Abdominal pain.
- Vision changes.
- Peeing less than usual.
- Fast and significant weight gain.
You should watch for these symptoms, particularly if you have a history of chronic medical conditions such as hypertension and diabetes, if this is your first pregnancy, or if you are pregnant with multiples (4).
Seek medical attention immediately if you suspect you could be experiencing preeclampsia.
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. It also might not produce 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 health care provider’s advice.
If you are experiencing severe nausea and vomiting during your pregnancy, your doctor might prescribe you some medicine to manage those symptoms. If you start feeling dizzy after taking this medication, make sure you let your doctor know. 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 prevent dizziness while pregnant.
1. Stay Hydrated
Drink water throughout the day to ensure you stay adequately hydrated. Doctors recommend 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 milk, yogurt, smoothies, juice, tea, and coffee also count toward your daily fluid intake. 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.
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 women complain about is the feeling of their bladder not being completely empty after peeing. 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, helping you avoid that feeling of not having peed enough.
Editor's Note:Dr. Irena Ilic, MD
2. Don’t Overdo it on the Exercise
Working out too hard can cause you to become lightheaded and overheat. While doctors generally recommend exercise during pregnancy, it’s important to listen to your body and not overwork yourself.
3. 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 and cushion your hip. You can also place a pillow between your knees to help prop them up and keep them from putting pressure on your back and hips.
4. Eat Small Meals Frequently
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. This can exacerbate your risk of suffering from low blood sugar and related dizziness.
5. Get Enough Fresh Air
Heat will naturally cause you to feel dizzy. Your body is already warmer because of your pregnancy. 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.
Open a window to let some fresh air in when possible, and keep a fan nearby on hot days.
6. 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 maternity clothes with belly panels fit snugly against your skin, they should not feel tight, uncomfortable, or leave deep marks when you take them off. 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.
7. 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. Your widened blood vessels during pregnancy can exacerbate this blood pressure drop.
8. 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.
9. Wear Compression Stockings
Compression stockings help with swollen feet and varicose veins, but they 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.
10. 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 doctors recommend 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 be a cobalamin deficiency. If that’s the 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, these 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: If your dizziness is caused by low blood sugar, for quick relief, eat a high-sugar or high-carb snack like a piece of fruit, candy, a bottle of juice, or a granola bar. You can also carry some of those snacks with you just in case.
- Hold on to something for stability: If you’re not prone to passing out but struggle with dizziness, hold on to 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 experience 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 prenatal visits, your health care provider will inform you about how to cope with and prevent dizziness, which 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.
You should also call your doctor right away if you experience any of these symptoms along with your dizziness (9):
- Racing heart.
- Pain in your abdomen or chest.
- Severe swelling.
- Vaginal bleeding.
- Blurred vision.