by Emily Wade Adams, CNC for Natal-Nutrition.com
Between 6-8 percent of women will develop gestational hypertension (high blood pressure during pregnancy). When diagnosed early in the pregnancy, gestational hypertension can be a precursor to preeclampsia, a medical condition with serious implications for mother and baby. From a holistic standpoint, the risk factors for gestational hypertension are similar to those for regular hypertension – diet, stress, and exercise all play a role. Simple lifestyle changes can help prevent or tame gestational hypertension:
Ensure an accurate diagnosis. Going to the doctor can be stressful enough to raise anyone’s blood pressure – in fact, there is a term for it: white coat syndrome. Make sure to get several readings to ensure your diagnosis is accurate. Breathe deeply and relax before you put on the cuff. If possible, take a few readings at home when you’re relaxed.
Correct nutritional deficiencies. Deficiencies in calcium, magnesium, vitamin B6, vitamin A, vitamin E, and zinc are all related to gestational hypertension (Hudson, 2008). To add these nutrients to your diet, ensure you’re eating a balanced diet full of whole foods. Avoid processed foods with no nutritional value. Particularly helpful foods are seaweed (kelp), pumpkin seeds, whole grains, egg yolks, and dark leafy greens. Renowned herbalist Susun Weed also recommends garlic and cucumbers (Weed, 1986).
Soothe yourself. Experts agree that relaxation can be beneficial in the prevention and treatment of hypertension. Take time each day to meditate, breathe deeply or try visualization exercises. iTunes is a great place to find free guided meditation podcasts, which are helpful for beginners. Two I like are Meditation Oasis (they even have a pregnancy meditation) and Meditation Station.
Don’t (or do) exercise. Exercise is strongly preventative against gestational hypertension, so pregnant women should enjoy healthy exercise daily – even if it’s just walking a mile a day. However, once you’ve been diagnosed with pregnancy hypertension, exercise is contraindicated (Hudson, 2008), and many women go on bed rest.
Avoid toxins – especially lead. Maternal lead exposure may cause severe health problems for the developing baby, including schizophrenia, low birth weight, loss of hearing, birth defects, mental retardation, autism, attention and IQ deficits, and even fatality (Agin, 2010). But high lead levels are problematic for the mother too, as they are linked to preeclampsia (Hudson, 2008). Lead can be difficult to avoid, as sometimes it is entrenched in our environments. Possible sources include paint in old buildings, soil, polluted air, plumbing fixtures, bullets, fishing sinkers, leaded cyrstal, ceramic glazes, candle wicks and cosmetics. Avoid lead when you can. Also, be choosy about your supplements: calcium supplements from bone meal and oyster shells have been found to contain lead (Hudson, 2008).
Supplement with pregnancy tonics that combat gestational hypertension. Evening primrose oil is effective in preventing gestational hypertension (Hudson, 2008). Susun Weed recommends drinking nettle or raspberry leaf infusions or teas to prevent hypertension and a daily cup of skullcap infusion after diagnosis (Weed, 1986). Calcium supplementation may also be beneficial if you cannot get sufficient calcium through diet.
Hudson, T. (2008). Women’s Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. Pregnancy. McGraw Hill: New York.
Weed, S. (1986). Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year. Ash Tree Publishing: Woodstock, NY.
Agin, D. (2010). More Than Genes. Oxford University Press: New York.