The first thing pregnant women should check if they are suffering from tiredness and dizziness is whether or not there is a pattern to the symptoms. Some women find they “crash” after eating carb-heavy meals, but feel fine after eating protein-rich foods. This means a simple diet change can prevent symptoms. Other women may notice they feel dizzy after standing up too quickly or moving around too fast, which may indicate low blood pressure (see below).
These causes of fainting and dizziness are fairly common and easily diagnosable.
Low Iron Levels During Pregnancy
Pregnancy-induced anaemia is very common, as a woman’s blood volume increases dramatically to nourish the growing baby. Even women taking in theoretically sufficient iron may be deficient if they are low on folic acid or vitamin B12.
An article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition links pregnancy anaemia to preterm births, low birth weights and low iron stores in infants. Ferritin (stored iron) levels can be checked easily with a blood test – any number between 20 and 200 is considered normal, although women on the extreme low end of the scale may wish to supplement anyway.
A wide range of iron supplements are available, including vegan versions. Natural brands such as Floradix and SpaTone are available over the counter and are known for being non-constipating. However, some women require more “heavy-weight” prescription doses. The best source of dietary iron is haem iron, obtained from red meats; non-haem iron is much less easily absorbed by the body.
Low Blood Pressure During Pregnancy
The increase in a woman’s blood volume during pregnancy often results in a dip in blood pressure during the second trimester. If dizziness occurs upon standing up too quickly, moving briskly or standing in a hot shower, low blood pressure is likely to be the culprit. A health care provider will test for this by taking the woman’s blood pressure after she has been sitting for a while, then immediately after she stands up – a significant drop in blood pressure indicates low blood pressure.
Low blood pressure during pregnancy, unless extremely severe, is generally endured rather than cured. Women are advised to get out of bed slowly, in stages, rather than all at once; to keep well-hydrated, avoid hot or steamy environments, and take plenty of rest. Usually blood pressure normalises again in the third trimester.
Hunger or Thirst Can Cause Faintness
Women who have morning sickness are often, not surprisingly, disinclined to eat much, however, even women who aren’t ill sometimes go inexplicably “off” food during pregnancy. Many women develop aversions to formerly loved foods, or even entire food groups; some omnivorous women can’t stand the texture or smell of meat, while some others find they need to avoid dairy, sugar or grains in order to stave off heartburn.
As a result, it can be easy for women to eat and drink less than they should without realising it. Several small meals throughout the day, along with plenty of fluids, are often the best way to eat. Keeping a food diary can be a good way for women to tell if they are actually eating as much as they think.
During the first several months of pregnancy, mothers do not usually need to eat more than usual (despite well-intentioned “eating for two” advice!); but any food consumed should ideally be nutrient-dense, not empty calories. That said, if all that will stay down is ginger beer and white rice, eat ginger beer and white rice!
Other Causes of Fatigue and Dizziness During Pregnancy
Other possible causes of these symptoms include low blood sugar (possibly linked to gestational diabetes); poor thyroid function; or the presence of twins or multiples. Older women and multiparas may also experience more fatigue during pregnancy than young, first-time mothers. Closely-spaced pregnancies can deplete a woman’s body of nutrients, causing more severe pregnancy symptoms in subsequent pregnancies.
In short: some fatigue and dizziness during pregnancy is normal, but repeated fainting episodes or extreme fatigue should be investigated more closely.