High blood pressure is one of the most common pregnancy problems women encounter. If you get high blood pressure in pregnancy you will have one of two types:
- Chronic hypertension, this is when you already had high blood pressure before you became pregnant
- Pregnancy-induced hypertension (also known as gestational hypertension), which is when high blood pressure is caused by your pregnancy
Normally your blood pressure will fall in the first half of pregnancy and then rise again in the second half of your pregnancy. Most cases of pregnancy-induced hypertension (PIH) are diagnosed after 32 weeks. If left untreated high blood pressure can cause serious health risks to you and your baby, so your midwife will monitor you and check for signs of high blood pressure at every antenatal appointment.
Whether you had high blood pressure before becoming pregnant, or not, you can use these simple dietary and lifestyle changes to help keep your blood pressure within a healthy range:
Eat more essential fatty acids (EFAs)
This is clinically proven to lower blood pressure. Great sources of essential fatty acids include:
- Brazil nuts*
- Chia seeds
- Coconut oil
- Flaxseed oil
- Nut butters*
- Olive oil
- Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring**
- Pumpkin seeds
* Just remember these should all be free from added salt – and avoided if you are allergic to nuts!
** See foods to restrict in pregnancy.
Aim to eat two to three portions of EFAs every day. One portion is a handful of nuts, a salmon steak or a tablespoon of oil.
Eat foods rich in calcium and magnesium
Calcium and magnesium reduce the risk of hypertension and pre-eclampsia during pregnancy. It is therefore really important to get plenty of both in your diet as it may help to prevent or relieve high blood pressure. See the foundations of a healthy diet: part two.
The best sources of calcium and magnesium are green leafy vegetables, such as:
- Collard greens
Other good vegetable sources include:
- Green beans
- Sweet potatoes
The best fruit sources include:
Get plenty of Vitamin D
Vitamin D deficiency is a key player in hypertension along with many other pregnancy complications (see recommended supplements during pregnancy). NICE Guidelines state that all pregnant and breastfeeding women should take a vitamin D supplement, as typically we do not get enough through diet or sunshine in the UK. See 3 important times to take vitamin D supplements.
Eat more whole grains
Whole grains are a rich source of soluble fibre which has been shown to improve blood pressure control and reduce the need for medication. Try and eat three – four portions of whole grains each day, including:
- Brown rice
- Quinoa. See superfoods for pregnancy
- Wholemeal flour
A portion is 2 slices of wholemeal bread, or a cup of cooked rice.
Try fermented milk products
Research suggests that certain bacterial strains can help lower your blood pressure. Other beneficial effects include helping your digestion and boosting your immune system, so try to include one to two portions per day of foods, such as:
- Cheddar cheese
- Live natural yogurt
Information provided by Bump and Beyond Nutrition