High blood pressure is a risk factor for a number of health complications. Some of these are heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. For pregnant women, high blood pressure can increase the risk of preeclampsia, which is a serious condition that can have negative health effects for the mother and fetus.
Because of the dangers of high blood pressure, pregnant women with hypertension are advised to make a few different lifestyle changes to help lower their blood pressure.
Fruits and vegetables, vegetables and fruits: you hear it all the time, but these words are repeated for a reason. These foods contain important nutrients like potassium that actually help regulate blood pressure. Some foods that are high in potassium include bananas, sweet potatoes, spinach, and tomatoes.
Sodium raises blood pressure, so pregnant women may want to limit foods with a high salt content, and avoid adding salt to foods. Whenever possible, it’s also best to avoid processed foods. Unfortunately, these contain a higher sodium content than the unprocessed versions of them.
Experts agree that proper physical activity works just as well as some medications in lowering blood pressure. That’s pretty amazing!
There’s really no single right type of physical activity. What’s best for you may not be best for someone else. Swimming, yoga, and walking are a few good ways to get physical activity. The most important thing is that the heart beats faster than normal, and that your breathing rate is increased.
A common recommendation about exercise during pregnancy is not to begin an exercise regimen that you hadn’t done before pregnancy. This means that if you were an avid tennis player before pregnancy, it’s probably still safe and healthy during pregnancy, but if you have never swung a racket, tennis might not be the best activity to pick up at this time. (One exception to this rule: pregnant women should avoid any physical activity that could increase their risk of falling and hurting their abdomens; for example, horseback riding, rugby, soccer, or snowboarding. Talk to your healthcare provider about what exercises are safe for you during pregnancy, especially if you have preexisting medical conditions.)
Being overweight or obese during pregnancy can increase the risk of high blood pressure, which is why it’s so important to try to maintain a balanced weight gain. Eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly can help pregnant women limit their weight gain to what is recommended for their body types before and during pregnancy. This can also help women maintain or lose weight in a safe and healthy manner if that is what is recommended for a healthy pregnancy. Your healthcare provider will be able to talk to you more specifically about the rate of weight gain that’s the healthiest for your pregnancy.
Other risk factors
There are a couple of other risk factors that affect blood pressure.
- Smoking and alcohol: Cigarette smoking and alcohol intake can impact blood pressure, and pregnant women are advised to avoid alcohol and smoking.
- Stress: Stress can also impact blood pressure. When a person is stressed, their body releases hormones that raise their heartbeat and constrict the blood vessels. This causes a (temporary) increase in blood pressure. Even though this increase is temporary, it’s still really unhealthy for a person to be under an elevated stress level for extended periods of time. This is one reason why stress-relieving activities are so important during pregnancy.
More than 20% of people with hypertension are unaware that they have high blood pressure. Hypertension doesn’t show recognizable symptoms, can appear at any stage of life, and often leads to serious health complications. Pregnant women are advised to speak to their healthcare provider about the various ways that they can work to lower their blood pressure.
- “Preeclampsia and Hypertension in Pregnancy: Resource Overview.” ACOG. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 2017. Web.
- “Changes You Can Make to Manage High Blood Pressure.” Heart. American Heart Association, Jan 10 2017. Web.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “10 ways to control high blood pressure without medication.” MayoClinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, May 30 2015. Web.