high blood pressure pregnancyBy Hayley Oakes LM, CPM ~

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is the force with which your blood moves through the blood vessels in your body when the heart pumps. The blood pressure reading is a reflection of how hard the heart has to work to adequately circulate the blood. The systolic pressure (the top number) measures the heart contracting and the amount of pressure used to push blood through the arteries to the other parts of the body; and the diastolic pressure (the bottom number) is a measurement of the heart relaxing and the pressure it takes to refill with blood before the next contraction.

What determines high blood pressure or hypertension?

High blood pressure is defined as two blood pressure readings of 140/90, taken at least six hours apart but no more than a couple of days. This is due to the fact that blood pressure is variable throughout the day and can be altered depending on your mood, environment, and interactions.

In the U.S., hypertensive disorders (including pre-eclampsia and eclampsia) are the most common cause of medical complications in pregnancy, affecting 2-10% of all pregnancies.

How does one have high blood pressure in pregnancy?

The greatest contributors to high blood pressure are stress, poor nutrition, and lack of exercise. Although one could have chronic hypertension (pre-existing high blood pressure before the pregnancy) that she may or may not have been aware of, or it could be pregnancy induced which develops and increases after 20 weeks of gestation.

What are the risks of high blood pressure?

Firstly, the general risks associated with hypertension are: lack of adequate oxygen flow to the baby, the potential for low-birth weight, and possible stillbirth. Furthermore, because the force of the blood behind the placenta is increased, the risk of placental abruption (in which the placenta prematurely separates from the uterine wall), is a potentially dangerous situation for both mother and baby.

Secondly, while not all high blood pressure results in complications, it is one of the symptoms of pre-eclampsia, a more serious condition that we screen for as well which has other symptoms: not feeling well, slow growth of the baby, visual disturbances, upper abdominal pain, headaches, kidney, heart or thyroid problems, and the presence of protein in the urine.

Unfortunately these risks would no longer make someone a candidate for an out-of-hospital birth.

How can I prevent and/or remedy high blood pressure?

The suggestions on the following page may help you in preventing high blood pressure if you are prone to it, and/or lowering it should it become elevated.

  • First and foremost, maintain an adequate diet of 80 grams of protein, sufficient calories (2400-3000) salting to taste and drinking to thirst of at least an 8 oz. glass of clear fluid every 2-3 hours or so.
  • Relaxation techniques i.e. hypnotherapy, visualizations of blood vessels expanding, trauma releasing exercise (TRE), stretching, meditating, taking a bath, deep breaths can be used several times daily and lifestyle modified as much as possible to reduce stress and anxiety.
  • Moderate exercise can be very beneficial to improve circulatory function i.e. yoga, walking, swimming.
  • Avoid stimulants such as strong spices (mustard, black and white pepper, ginger, and nutmeg), black tea, cola drinks, or coffee.
  • Add foods and herbs to reduce hypertension:
    • Watermelon has the richest edible source of L-citrulline, a type of amino acid that helps promote and regulate healthy blood pressure.
    • Buckwheat helps relax blood vessels and improve blood flow and nutrient delivery. It contains almost 86 milligrams of magnesium in a one-cup serving which helps lower blood pressure.
    • Raw garlic (causes vasodilation and inhibits platelet build-up and inflammation), parsley  (a diuretic that increases the elimination of sodium, potassium and fluid by the kidneys), and onions (contains same nutrient, allicin, as in raw garlic that aids in vasodilation) in large quantities.
    • Garlic oil capsules 2-10 or 800 mg daily. Discontinue 3 weeks before due date.
    • Cucumber (natural diuretic) – ½ cup of fresh juice or a whole fresh one daily
    • Juice of half a fresh lemon (blood vessels soft and pliable and removes their rigidity which in turn lowers the high blood pressure) or lime plus 2 tsp. cream of tartar (high potassium level which controls bp due to decreasing amounts of sodium in system) in half a cup of water, once daily for three days. This can be repeated once after a rest of two days.
    • Hops tea (sleep-inducing herb that calms nerves) 1 tsp. to 1 cup of boiling water steeped 20 min. Can safely and effectively be used nightly during the last four months of pregnancy CAUTION: Hops is contraindicated for regular use throughout pregnancy, or for use during the first trimester, due to its hormonal precursors.
    • Passionflower (a relaxant as it increases the brain’s levels of gamma-amino-butyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter that turns down the volume of activity in the emotional center of the brain.) 2-4 capsules daily or 15 drops of tincture three times daily; must be taken for several weeks to obtain the best result.
    • Skullcap infusion (helps in reducing physical stress) 1 oz. to 1 qt. boiling water; cover and steep for 4-6 hours 1-2 cups daily as it builds and strengthens nervous system.
    • Hawthorn berries (work cumulatively to strengthen the heart and is said to help improve and prevent congenital heart defects) 1 oz. crushed dried berries in 2 cups cold water steeped overnight brought quickly to a boil, strained and sipped 1 cup daily. Tincture dosage is 15 drops 2-3 times daily.
  • Vitamin supplements containing magnesium, calcium, and potassium in a balanced formula
  • Homeopathic remedies are chosen based on various specific details of the person seeking treatment, so consult with midwife or specialist.

Please consult with your midwife to come up with a safe plan for you and your baby in lowering your blood pressure to remain healthy throughout your pregnancy.

Adapted from “Holistic Midwifery: Vol. 1” by Anne Frye and “The Natural Pregnancy Book” by Aviva Jill Romm