The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology reports that high blood pressure affects roughly 10% of all pregnancies in the United States. High blood pressure – also called hypertension – poses a serious risk during pregnancy, so it’s important for expectant mothers and their healthcare providers to keep track of any signs of hypertension throughout the course of pregnancy.
A healthcare provider’s office isn’t the only place that women can get their blood pressure checked. Nowadays, there are more options than ever for women who need the convenience or immediacy of a local or home blood pressure reading.
Places to get blood pressure read
Many groceries and pharmacies have free-standing blood pressure health stations where people can get a reading without an appointment. These stations are reliable and safe, and pharmacists can explain directions or clarify results.
However, for many people, home readings are more convenient for keeping an eye on blood pressure. As an added bonus, they tend to give a more realistic blood pressure reading than what’s recorded in a medical environment, because people are often nervous at their appointments with a provider, which can increase BP.
If you have high blood pressure and are able to take your own readings, it might be in your best interest to purchase a manual or electronic blood pressure cuff to use at home. You’ll be able to understand your personal readings a little more comprehensively, and you won’t have to travel to get a quick reading.
What kind of monitor to buy
Depending on what you’re comfortable with, you can either buy a digital or manual blood pressure monitor. Digital monitors come with cuffs that wrap around your arm, and they either have a ball to squeeze or a button to press that will inflate the cuff. The device will measure your blood pressure, show the measurement on its screen, and then deflate by itself. Digital monitors are the recommended device for home use because they are so clear and easy to use.
Manual monitors do not have a screen that tells you the reading. If you use a manual monitor, you’ll have to count and measure your reading. Manual monitors have a cuff, a squeezable bulb, a barometer, and a stethoscope to hear your pulse. Manual blood pressure monitors are precise, but since they take a little more work than digital monitors, they aren’t the recommended device for home use.
The American Heart Administration recommends against buying wrist and finger blood pressure monitors as their results can be unreliable.
Mind the cuff size: No matter what kind of monitor you choose, you need to be careful about choosing the right-sized cuff. Measure your arm and then check to make sure that the monitor you are considering has the appropriate-sized cuff. Anything smaller or larger could affect the reading.
Get your provider’s approval: After you buy a blood pressure monitor, you may want to have your healthcare provider inspect the device to ensure that it is functional and a good choice for you.
How often to take a reading
It’s best to take more than one reading a day, because taking two readings per day will allow you to average out both measurements and establish a good baseline. Each time that you take a reading, make sure to take it two or three times for accuracy.
Times of day to take a reading
Your blood pressure is higher in the morning, so you’ll want to take a reading a little while after you wake up but before you eat breakfast, eat medications, or exercise. Try taking readings in the morning and in the evening before you eat dinner.
Before you begin, make sure that you understand how to use the monitor, and what steps you’ll be taking. Also, needing to use the bathroom, exercising, drinking coffee, smoking a cigarette, and even digesting food can raise your blood pressure, so try to take a reading before you do any of these things, or at least 30 minutes after.
Sit in a chair with your back supported and straight. Keep your legs uncrossed, and your feet flat on the floor. Rest the forearm that you’ll be measuring on a table, keeping the arm supported at chest-height. Using the other hand, roll up your sleeve to place the cuff around your bare arm. The monitor’s cuff should be fastened directly above the bend of your elbow. Keep the arm that you are measuring relaxed, not tensed, and rest for at least 5 minutes to settle your body. Make sure not to talk while you rest.
Taking the reading
When you’re ready, take the first reading, and then a second reading within 15 minutes. You’ll want to stay silent and avoid any distractions during these readings. As per recommendations from the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative, write down the highest reading, and make a note of which arm you used for the measurement.
If your reading is high
By this point, you may have received an elevated or high blood pressure reading (higher than 120/80 Hg). Try not to worry if this is the case, as a reading could be high due to a number of reasons. Continue to track your measurements and talk to your healthcare provider if the reading stays high. If your blood pressure readings increase very rapidly, or if you feel physical symptoms like shortness of breath, vision changes, or chest pain, it’s a good idea to give your healthcare provider a call.
Things to remember about home monitoring
Keeping track of blood pressure is extremely important in pregnancy, and it can be very helpful for women to learn how to take and record their measurements at home. However, taking measurements at home is not a substitute for visits with your healthcare provider. Women should always check with their healthcare providers before changing or stopping medication.
It never hurts to know more about your pregnancy and your health. Keeping track of your blood pressure can help you understand your body’s fluctuations as well as detect any changes in their early stages. If you have any questions about monitoring your blood pressure, make sure to speak with your healthcare provider, as he or she will be able to give you more information specific to your body.
- “Checking Your Blood Pressure at Home.” ClevelandClinic. Cleveland Clinic, Feb 7 2014. Web.
- Laura J Martin. “Blood pressure monitors for home.” MedlinePlus. US National Library of Medicine, May 3 2015. Web.
- Deborah M. Feldman. “Blood pressure monitoring during pregnancy.” Blood Pressure Monitoring. 6(1):1-7. Web. Feb 2001.
- “How to Measure, Monitor, and Maintain Your High Blood Pressure.” MeasureUpPressureDown. American Medical Group Foundation, 2013. Web.
- “Monitoring Your Blood Pressure at Home.” American Heart Association. American Heart Association, Inc., Nov 2017. Web. Accessed 1/11/18. Available at http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HighBloodPressure/KnowYourNumbers/Monitoring-Your-Blood-Pressure-at-Home_UCM_301874_Article.jsp#.WljMxJM-cWp.
- “Hypertension in Pregnancy.” ACOG. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 2013. Web. Accessed 1/11/18. Available at https://www.acog.org/Clinical-Guidance-and-Publications/Task-Force-and-Work-Group-Reports/Hypertension-in-Pregnancy.
- “Accurate Blood Pressure Measurement Toolkit pdf.” CMQCC. California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative, Dec 2013. Web. Accessed 1/11/18. Available at https://www.cmqcc.org/resource/accurate-blood-pressure-measurement-toolkit-pdf.