Dizziness During Pregnancy
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In this article:
- Dizziness During Pregnancy Overview
- Is Dizziness A Common Symptom Of Pregnancy?
- When Does Dizziness Typically Start During Pregnancy?
- What Causes Dizziness While Pregnant?
- What Can I Do About Dizziness When I'm Pregnant?
- When Does Dizziness During Pregnancy Usually End?
- Dizziness During The First Trimester
- Dizziness During The Second Trimester
- Dizziness During The Third Trimester
- When To Contact Your Doctor
Dizziness During Pregnancy
Dizziness during pregnancy can be one of the most alarming symptoms to experience when you’re expecting. But, what meets the definition of dizziness and how can you know if it’s just another symptom that’s par for the course or something more serious? Let’s dive in and find out.
If you feel like you’re on a Tilt-a-Whirl ride at the fairgrounds or like you’ve just spun yourself around 20 times, you’ve probably just experienced a dizzy spell. Or, maybe you bent over slightly to pick something up and felt a little lightheaded. That also describes a sensation of dizziness.
Dizziness is a word that can describe several sensations. When people say they’re dizzy, they could mean that they feel weak, unsteady, faint, or woozy. You might also feel like you or your surroundings are spinning and that’s no fun. That is unless you’re on a merry-go-round. This sensation describes vertigo more than general dizziness and it could be due to a problem with your inner ear rather than a pregnancy symptom.
By now, you’re probably wondering if feeling dizzy while you’re pregnant is normal?
Is Dizziness A Common Symptom Of Pregnancy?
Dizziness is quite common when you’re expecting, but it doesn’t mean that it’s a symptom that should be ignored. For one thing, a dizzy spell can cause you to fall and injure yourself or your baby.
In all probability, your dizziness is likely another symptom due to being pregnant. You have to remember that there are so many changes occurring in your body during your pregnancy. One of the primary changes is that your hormones are simply going whacko. They’re all over the place and that’s hard on your body in and of itself.
Added to that, the physical changes of your body can cause the walls of your blood vessels to relax too much. This can cause your blood pressure to go too low. If you feel lightheaded when you stand up or bend over, it’s likely due to low blood pressure.
Let’s not forget morning sickness. If you’re vomiting or you’re too nauseated to replenish any lost fluids, you can dehydrate quickly and this, in turn, can cause dizziness.
It’s important to isolate the cause of your dizziness so that measures can be taken to minimize any unpleasant sensations. This can help to avoid complications that can arise from being dizzy, such as falling or fainting. If your unsteadiness is due to a medical complication, you’ll also want to address the cause and treat it appropriately.
When Does Dizziness Typically Start During Pregnancy?
After you’ve become pregnant, dizziness can start early in the first trimester, usually around the six-week mark.
But you can experience dizziness through each trimester of your pregnancy. There can be different causes, depending on the trimester and the circumstance that brings on the dizzying sensations.
What Causes Dizziness While Pregnant?
We’ve touched briefly on a couple of the causes of dizziness while you’re pregnant. But, let’s look a little more deeply at all of the possibilities.
- Postural hypotension: You may experience this when you stand up too quickly. You know, like that time when you were anxiously awaiting your Amazon package. The one that had the comfy maternal lounge pants you ordered when you decided to ditch those tight and uncomfortable leggings. So, when the mailman buzzed your doorbell, in your excitement you rushed up too fast to get your package. Only you felt unsteady and saw stars for a few moments. Yep, that’s postural hypotension for you. It occurs when you stand up too fast and it doesn’t give your brain enough time to receive the blood it needs.
- Laying down too long: While some rest is good for you when you’re pregnant, there is such a thing as overdoing it. If you lay down for too long, it can cause your blood pressure to be too low. And low blood pressure is one of the most common causes of dizziness when you’re expecting. 10% of pregnant women experience frequent low blood pressure.
- Hypertension: Just as low blood pressure, or hypotension, can cause dizziness, so can high blood pressure, or hypertension. This is more common later in your pregnancy as your body builds extra fluid. Hypertension is more common if you develop a condition called pre-eclampsia in the third trimester. Just to be safe and stay ahead of the game, you may want to consider monitoring your own blood pressure in between OBGYN visits.
- Low blood sugar: If you skip meals or eat irregularly, your blood sugar can dip too low and cause dizziness. This is more likely to happen later in the day or if you’re experiencing a lot of morning sickness. You are also at a higher risk of low blood sugar if you develop gestational diabetes while you're pregnant. In gestational diabetes, your hormones change the way insulin is produced in your body. This can make your blood sugar go too high as well as too low. Your OBGYN will monitor you closely for this condition later on in your pregnancy.
- Dehydration: Remember, you should be taking in enough fluids and nutrition for two. If you don’t, or if your morning sickness is making you lose a lot of fluid, you can easily become dehydrated, which can make you lightheaded or dizzy. Be aware of a condition called Hyperemesis, or severe morning sickness. This is a condition that affects between 0.3% and 2.3% of all pregnant women and is much more severe and longer-lasting than ordinary morning sickness. You can have nausea so severe that you can’t keep food down and vomit repeatedly, causing a sharp loss of fluids and important electrolytes. You might even have a fever and sweat. This type of severe fluid loss most certainly causes dehydration.
- Anemia: About 15 to 25% of pregnant women develop iron-deficiency anemia. Iron is vital for transporting oxygen through the rest of your body, so if you’re anemic, your tissues and brain aren’t getting the oxygen-rich blood they need. This can cause shortness of breath AND you guessed it, dizziness.
What Can I Do About Dizziness When I'm Pregnant?
Dizzy spells can be a bit scary but there are some things you can do to minimize your risk of getting them.
- Change positions regularly, but do so slowly. This can help you maintain steady blood pressure and avoid fluctuations that can bring on low blood pressure. If you must stand for a long time, move around a little. When you stand from a seated or lying down position, get up very slowly and avoid moving too fast.
- When you lay down to rest, lay on your left side. This can help improve circulation and blood flow throughout your body.
- Eat small meals and snacks throughout the day. Sure, we all want to eat lots of cake and ice cream while we’re pregnant. But, save it for those rare, special occasions. If your pregnancy starts to affect your blood sugar, eating smaller portions of food more often can help to level your blood sugar levels. Just try to eat nutritious foods and avoid sugary foods and simple carbohydrates, which could only make things worse. Opt for low-glycemic fruits, cheese, yogurt, nuts, lots of veggies, lean meats, oatmeal, beans, baked potatoes, and vitamin-rich foods.
- Stay hydrated. Drink lots of water to avoid becoming dehydrated and limit caffeine intake. Coconut water is great for maintaining hydration. It can take the edge off of nausea as well. This caffeine-free herbal tea can also help with nausea and prevent fluid-loss, as well as help a host of other issues that can occur when you’re pregnant.
- Keep all doctor’s appointments. It’s important that your healthcare provider monitor you throughout your pregnancy. This way they can stay on top of any potential complications. Regular appointments can help your physician discover if you’re anemic, dehydrated, or at risk for pre-eclampsia, all of which could impact your health and that of your baby’s. All of these are treatable conditions that best benefit from early intervention.
When Does Dizziness During Pregnancy Usually End?
Any dizziness you experience during your pregnancy will end once the specific cause is addressed or when the condition causing you to feel unsteady passes. Let’s look at these by trimester.
Dizziness During The First Trimester
Dizziness during the first trimester is more likely to be due to low blood pressure and hormonal changes. The moment you become pregnant, your hormones are adjusting to increased blood flow inside your body. This is what helps your baby to develop.
This increased blood flow can cause blood pressure changes in your body. Usually, in early pregnancy, this means lower blood pressure, which can cause you to feel unsteady, especially as you change positions.
Severe morning sickness can also cause dehydration, which can also make you feel very dizzy.
When you develop dizziness due to any of these causes, it can get better as your pregnancy progresses. But, in some cases, you might be prone to dizzy spells throughout your pregnancy.
Dizziness During The Second Trimester
In addition to the conditions that often present themselves during the first trimester, there are a couple of other things that can cause dizziness during your second trimester.
For instance, as your uterus grows, it can place pressure on your blood vessels, particularly if your baby is large. This pressure can also cause you to feel giddy or lightheaded.
Also, as your pregnancy progresses, laying down on your back is not recommended because your growing uterus can block the blood flow from your legs to your heart. And that can make you dizzy as well as have some other unwanted symptoms. This is why we recommend that you sleep on your side to prevent it from happening.
And as we’ve already talked about, you are more likely to develop gestational diabetes or low blood sugar problems later in your second trimester.
Problems with dizziness during this trimester will ultimately last as long as the factors that bring on these conditions are present. Unfortunately, that could mean you might experience unsteadiness off and on until you’ve delivered your baby. But, if you get some things under control, like low blood sugar or gestational diabetes, your dizziness could get better sooner.
Dizziness During The Third Trimester
Much of the dizziness you might feel during your third trimester of pregnancy is likely to be due to the same things that cause first and second-trimester dizziness. But, if you’ve managed to avoid being dizzy during your first two trimesters and suddenly have a whirl of it in your third trimester, something more serious could be at play.
Placental abruptions and pre-eclampsia are a couple of the conditions that can cause sudden dizziness during the third trimester.
But how do you know when your dizziness is merely a nuisance that can be managed from home versus something more serious that warrants your doctor’s attention?
When To Contact Your Doctor
Remember that any unusual symptoms should be taken seriously when you’re pregnant. Discuss any new or worsening symptoms with your doctor, no matter when they appear during your pregnancy, even if it seems to pass.
But, if you have sudden, severe dizziness while you’re pregnant, contact your doctor or go to the ER immediately, especially if you have the following symptoms:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Severe swelling
- Stomach pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pains
- Severe headache
- Problems with your vision
It’s always better to be safe than sorry and report unusual symptoms to your OBGYN or midwife. If it turns out to be something minor, at least your concerns will be put to rest and you’ll feel less stressed.
Remember that dizziness is common during pregnancy and it can be caused by many things. Some causes have nothing to do with pregnancy. That’s why it’s so important to talk to your doctor if you start getting dizzy spells.
Your physician or midwife will assess your symptoms and monitor you for potential problems to help ensure a safe pregnancy for you and your baby. They can also advise you on managing and reducing your dizziness.
Slow down when changing positions, eat healthily, stay hydrated, and reduce stress to help minimize dizziness during your pregnancy. These few strategies can go a long way to keep you and your baby safe.
American Pregnancy Association, Prevention of anemia during pregnancy, 2019.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Gestational Diabetes and Pregnancy, June 2018.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Morning Sickness: Nausea and Vomiting of Pregnancy, December 2015.
National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, Treatment of Hyperemesis Gravidarum, 2012.
- Phyllis Breaux