Dizziness and fainting in pregnancy

Is it normal to feel light-headed and dizzy when you’re expecting a baby? And why does pregnancy make you feel faint?

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It’s common, if you’re pregnant, to have a funny turn now and then – around 75% of mums-to-be experience dizziness and some of us faint occasionally during pregnancy too.

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Even the rich and famous can be affected – when singer Lily Allen was pregnant with her second daughter, Marnie Rose, she went all light-headed in a luxury department store and tweeted, @lilyrosecooper “Just fainted in Harrods. #croquemonsieur needed.”

Dizzy, my head is spinnin’ – like a whirlpool it never ends…

For most pregnant women, fainting and dizziness aren’t a sign of anything serious but it is worth understanding the causes so that you can avoid falling to the floor in an undignified heap, with your (maternity) frock flapping somewhere over your head.

“Some women get dizziness, others don’t. Some women faint, others don’t,” says obstetrician Dr Claire Hein. “We are all individuals and our bodies all adapt slightly differently, or are able to cope better with different stresses than others.”

Dr Hein adds, “Very occasionally there may be a more serious cause but your midwife or doctor will know which questions to ask to rule these out or to decide if further tests need to be done.”

If sharing is caring, why do I keep getting this woozy feeling?

Your body changes significantly when you’re pregnant. And while we’re normally pretty good at accommodating these changes, sometimes your heart and nervous system simply don’t adapt quick enough, which can leave you feeling dizzy or faint.

“One of the very first adaptations our body makes in a developing pregnancy is ‘sharing’ its blood supply; it now has to provide for both mum and growing baby,” says Dr Hein.

During the 1st trimester of pregnancy dizziness can be caused by low blood pressure. The pregnancy hormone progesterone relaxes the walls of your blood vessels, which in turn causes blood pressure – the strength of your blood pushing against the sides of your blood vessels – to fall.

Dr Hein adds, “By week 12 of pregnancy the volume of fluid being pumped around our body has increased by 40%. It’s no surprise then that when we are standing, go to stand or stand for prolonged periods that the pump system can fail (this is the same as low blood pressure)”.

All this is normal but what it means is that it takes longer for the blood to pump around your body, which explains that dizzy feeling when you stand up.

And the pressure drop continues…

Further along in pregnancy, high levels of progesterone continue to make your blood vessels relax and widen. This increases blood flow to your baby but slows it down to you – this slower flow of blood cuts back on blood flow to your brain, sometimes making your head spin.

Poor old MFMer Orion1313 says, “I was wondering if any of you experienced fainting and dizziness during your pregnancy? About a month ago I started having dizziness and just fainted about a week ago . I can’t walk over 5 minutes or the room feels like it’s spinning.

Could it be anything to do with low iron levels?

In some cases fainting can be caused by low iron levels, or iron deficiency (anaemia). Iron is one part of our blood and is responsible for carrying oxygen around the body.

A growing baby needs iron and will take it from you, even though you don’t actually have more to go around. “The same amount of iron as managed the body pre-pregnancy now has to manage the body during pregnancy,” says Dr Hein.

If you’re lacking in iron, you’ll be lacking in your ability to get oxygen anywhere including the brain and so are more likely to experience dizziness.

Although you’re tested early in your pregnancy for anaemia it can develop later on and many midwives or doctors will ask you to have another iron test if they’re worried your iron levels are low.

Anaemia can be easily treated with a course of iron tablets, but don’t start taking iron tablets ‘just in case’ without talking to your doctor first.

You should increase your intake of iron-rich foods. Vitamin C helps you absorb iron, so try to have a source of vitamin (orange juice is one example) when you’re eating iron-rich foods.

I’ve heard sleeping on your back can make you dizzy…

Supine hypotensive syndrome (SHS) can happen in the 2nd half of pregnancy. For some pregnant women, lying on their back can cause the uterus to compress the large blood vessels that carry blood to and from the heart.

Only around 8 percent of pregnant women develop it and in severe cases, it can cause your unborn baby to be starved of oxygen – but mostly it can leave you feeling anxious, lightheaded, and sick.

To avoid the problem, try to lie on your left side instead of flat on your back. A pillow placed behind you or under your hip so that you’re tilted slightly forward.

“It doesn’t matter if you sleep on left/right side they suggest to sleep on left due to blood flow, DONT sleep flat on your back especially in late pregnancy due to the baby sitting on main artery,” says bumps1.

Could there be any other reasons for this fainty feeling?

Yep – another reason you feel faint or dizzy can be because your blood sugar level is low. And try to avoid getting too hot, or having very hot baths.

Shopping-mad MFMer hayleys1 says, “I fainted when I was 14 weeks gone, I was in Primark alone and fainted whilst in the queue and people just walked past me to the till! Only one woman helped and I walked to the stairwell and fainted again! I also threw up in a Primark carrier bag and was carted off by the paramedics with an oxygen mask on! How embarrassing! It was blood sugar levels – I’m not diabetic or anything they were just very low for some reason”.

Well, what can I do to avoid getting dizzy, then?

Always carry some snacks with you, as going without food will affect your more now than when you weren’t pregnant.

MFMer sarah28uk says, “I felt dizzy and was told that it could have been due to low blood sugar…They suggested eating 5 small meals a day and if I felt dizzy to make sure I ate something with sugar. So I now carry around Lucozade for emergencies and have a mid morning and mid afternoon snack. This always seems to work for me.”

If you feel faint or dizzy, lying down will help blood circulation to your brain.And try not to overheat. Undo your coat and wear layers, so you can peel them off easily.

If you do get frequent dizzy spells, mention it to your midwife. If you faint, call your midwife or doctor. It’s probably nothing major, but it’s worth double-checking sooner rather than later.

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