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Vertigo and Pregnancy: How to Tame the Spins

Jun 21, 2024

Yesterday, waking to the early morning light, I rolled over to my right side, stretching out the aches and stiffness of the night. As I moved, I felt a familiar earie warm fuzziness flood my body, and instantly the world began to spin, flipping around and around with horrifying consistency that immediately made me want to throw up. I quickly rolled back over onto my left side, briefly acknowledged the feelings of frustration and alarm, and did the number one thing I knew I had to do to stop the spinning.

Discovering the world suddenly spinning is one of the last things you might expect during pregnancy, and a terrifying experience when you've never had vertigo before.

The first time I experienced vertigo was during my first pregnancy and I completely panicked. I was sure something was wrong with me or the baby and immediately called my midwife and regular doctors ready for a trip to the ED. They assured me that vertigo in pregnancy was normal and unalarming, and although deeply uncomfortable it would pass. I spent the entire day lying in bed miserable waiting for the episode to resolve, which it eventually did.

When this experience returned during my second pregnancy I was armed with additional knowledge of vertigo from my deep dive into body-mind mapping and transformational coaching that allowed me to move more quickly from spinning back to steadiness. Now, with my third baby on the way, vertigo has become a momentary disruption in my full and busy life with young children, a business, and daily commitments. 

Vertigo has shown up in all three of my pregnancies and I've learned a thing or two about how to prevent and treat pregnancy vertigo to quickly get back to an upright position and return to the important things in life.

What does Vertigo feel like?

The feeling of vertigo is unmistakable. It is the feeling you get upon laying down after drinking way too much in college. It feels like getting off of a particularly dizzy ride at an amusement park, except that instead of your head clearing and the world steadying as you return to solid ground, the ride doesn't stop.

Experiencing vertigo is like the entire world trips off its axis and takes you for a nauseating, dizzying, unrelenting spin.

Many women do not encounter vertigo in pregnancy at all and some women only encounter vertigo in pregnancy. The reasons and triggers vary, but some typical causes are listed below as well as what you can do when you suddenly find yourself in the thick of it.

Causes of Vertigo in Pregnancy

  • Hormonal changes can impact the fluid that fills the inner ear (endolymphatic fluid), which regulates balance and positioning.1
  • Widening blood vessels, which increase blood flow to baby, but slow blood flow back to mama causing dizziness and dysregulation.
  • Dehydration, water is key to balancing and maintaining equilibrium throughout all the systems of the body. When this critical ingredient is off your balance and other activities will likely be affected.
  • Increased draw on fluid as uterus and baby increase in size, increasing the demand for fluids to maintain other key activities and regulation in your body.
  • Possibly linked to prior history of migraines. There is not enough research on this one, but anecdotal evidence shows a possible link. I personally have a history of migraines, so this does not surprise me!

Most importantly, what to do when you get vertigo:

  • DRINK WATER. Drinking water is the most important and effective step you can immediately take to resolve your vertigo. Typically, I will drink a full liter of water within 10-30 mins after encountering the spins and continue consistent hydration from there. The amount for you may vary, but the key is to drink lots of hydrating fluid until your symptoms resolve (more than you think!). I received this tip from a fellow coach who suffers from routine spells of vertigo and has truly been a game changer! 
  • Stay down. It may be tempting to go about your day and life especially when you have little ones running about the house, but do your best to stay lying down, this is safer for you and the baby and will help you regain steadiness more quickly.
  • Lay on the non-spinning side. With vertigo there is usually a spinning side and non-spinning side, look for which side is better for you and use it to your advantage both laying down and when you need to move around.
  • Continue to hydrate consistently throughout your pregnancy. This is the best way to prevent vertigo from coming back and keep your body and baby healthy. It can be so easy to get caught up in the day especially for moms with littles ones or high paced careers, so look for ways to create routine and enjoyment around hydration, including tracking, apps, flavorings, etc. to create consistency. 

Warning signs you can look for to prevent vertigo:

  • Constipation, this is a sign that you are likely dehydrated and need to drink more water, not only preventing vertigo, but making it easier to go to the bathroom.
  • Short spells of dizziness, this is a common occurrence especially during the second trimester for many pregnant women, and doesn't necessarily lead to vertigo, but when you feel these dizzy spells, take it as a signal to increase water intake to help your body regain equilibrium.
  • Periods of stress, traumatizing incidents, or sickness. Make sure you especially pay attention to your water/fluid intake during these periods as the additional toll on your body may set you off balance. 
  • Excessive heat or high humidity in your area. The day before I got vertigo the temperatures in our area hit 100 degrees and I was outside and managing a stressful situation throughout the day. I forgot to up my water intake and truthfully didn't drink as much water as I even normally would. Make sure to get access to plentiful water no matter what is going on, especially on hot days, for you and for your baby!

Ultimately, if you find yourself waking up to spinning, roll over to the non-spinning side, take a deep breathe, and go slow and easy. Immediately reach for water, carefully get out of bed to get water, or better yet ask someone to get you a glass. Stay in bed or at rest as much as possible, consistently hydrating, until the episode resolves and ask for support from those you love. As always, please do call your doctor or midwife for medical advice and support if you are experiencing symptoms of vertigo or anything that doesn't feel right in your pregnancy, and stay hydrated!

Marin Phoenix is an ICEA Certified Childbirth Educator and Transformational Coach. She coaches women throughout the journey of pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum to create a deep connection and bond with baby, experience positive empowering birth, and process birth related trauma. She created Beyond Birthing to empower women with the information, tools, and training to navigate labor and delivery with confidence, authority, and comfort.

References:

1. Vertigo in Pregnancy: A Narrative Review - PMC (nih.gov), Luis Carlos Serna-Hoyos, Andres Felipe Herrón Arango, Cureus. 2022 May; 14(5): e25386.

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