During pregnancy, your body undergoes several changes to rise to the occasion of caring for and giving birth to a healthy baby. Some of these changes, like the enlargement of your breasts, are visible. However, other parts of your body are also quietly adapting to the changing demands of your body as you carry a baby. Your cardiovascular system is no exception. Your heart now needs to work harder since more blood needs to be pumped to the uterus as your baby grows. Let’s take a look at what this means for your heart rate.
How Does Pregnancy Affect Your Heart Rate And Blood Flow?
Your blood flow and cardiac activity undergo the following changes during pregnancy:
[pullquote]Pregnancy increases your resting pulse or heart rate by 17 percent and cardiac output by 50 percent.1[/pullquote]
- The volume of blood in your body increases by around 50 percent.
- The amount of blood pumped by your heart – known as cardiac output – increases by around 30–50 percent.
- In tandem, your heart rate also quickens from around 70 beats per minute to around 80 or 90 beats per minute.
- When you’re around 30 weeks pregnant, the cardiac output lowers slightly.
- It then increases by an extra 30 percent during labor.
- After delivery, cardiac output and your heart rate come down quickly at first, then tapers off more slowly to return to prepregnancy levels around 6 weeks after your baby’s born.2
What Does An Irregular Heart Rate During Pregnancy Mean?
An irregular heart rate may mean that your heart’s beating too rapidly (tachycardia), too slowly (bradycardia), or with an irregular pattern (arrhythmias).3 Changes to your heart’s rhythm can be because of:
1. Increased Load During Pregnancy
As we just pointed out, during pregnancy, your heart’s on overdrive to accommodate the changes in your body. Some irregularities in the rhythm of your heart are, therefore, normal during pregnancy because your heart is working harder.4 You may experience this as a “skipped beat” or a “fluttering” in your neck or chest. In most cases, this may turn out to be harmless.
But the challenge is that it can be difficult to distinguish between a harmless heart palpitation and something that requires medical treatment. If you sense irregular heart beats or palpitations, be sure to keep your doctor informed. Depending on the frequency or severity of the episodes, your doctor may need to conduct a physical exam or order tests such as an electrocardiogram to determine the cause of irregularity in your heart rhythm. Additional symptoms like fatigue, lightheadedness, dizziness, chest pain, shortness of breath, and a rapid or pounding heart point to an irregularity in the rhythm of your heart that’s impacting its functioning. Do seek immediate medical help if you experience these symptoms.5
2. Lifestyle Or Health Factors
Some factors related to your day-to-day lifestyle, health, and state of mind may also cause irregular heartbeats. As pregnancy hormones tussle with your system, you may feel the impact on your body and mind quite intensely. In most instances, you should be able to deal with these through some simple lifestyle changes or quick remedies, without medical intervention.
These factors include:
- Anxiety or stress: Ease your pregnancy pangs with relaxation or breathing exercises.
- Dehydration: Take in plenty of fluids or have an oral rehydration solution. Do keep in mind, though, that severe dehydration needs emergency medical treatment.
- Low blood sugar: Deal with it by having juice, biscuits, or even a tablespoon of sugar or honey. However, like dehydration, a severe case of low blood sugar should be treated as a medical emergency.6
- Some medications used for coughs and colds, asthma etc. can cause palpitations. Talk to your doctor about any medication you take.
- Having too much chocolate or caffeine can be a reason for heart palpitations. Cut down on these or avoid them as much as possible.
3. Medical Conditions
Sometimes, an irregular heart rate can be indicative of a problem like a heart disorder or thyroid imbalance that has developed and may require treatment.
Additional symptoms like chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, or fainting along with palpitations could point to heart disease 7
Symptoms like fatigue, hair loss, difficulty concentrating, hand tremors, frequent bowel movements, increased sweating and appetite, problems with your weight or sleep, and heat intolerance may be indicative of hyperthyroidism.8
If you feel your heart racing too often or experience any other symptoms, do make it a point to tell your doctor.
An Existing Heart Condition And Pregnancy
If you have heart disease and are considering pregnancy, it makes sense to speak to a doctor beforehand. Normal changes that occur during pregnancy may cause problems if you have a heart disorder. You might, therefore, require close monitoring to ensure that both you and the baby remain healthy. Keep your doctor informed even as you plan a pregnancy. Your doctor can discuss possible risks and help you deal with any issues that may arise due to your condition.9
Remedies For Irregular Heartbeat During Pregnancy (Non-medical Reasons)
If no cause that requires treatment has been identified for your palpitations, you can try these measures to minimize your symptoms.
Adopt Healthy Habits
Cut back on caffeine, make sure you eat regular meals, and get plenty of fluids as well as sufficient sleep. These habits can not only address lifestyle habits that can cause heart palpitations, they’re also good for your general health and wellbeing during pregnancy.
Cut Out The Stress
Anxiety and stress can make your heart rate irregular. Practicing relaxing techniques like meditation, tai chi, or yoga can help you deal with stress.
Take A Breath
Try deep breathing when you get palpitations. Breathe in deeply and slowly through your nose so that you feel your abdomen move.
Try The Valsalva Maneuver
Your doctor might advise you to practice a Valsalva maneuver when you get palpitations. This involves closing your mouth, pinching your nose close, and then forcefully breathing out through your nose.
Splashing some cold water on your face can be helpful when you have palpitations.10
The Ayurvedic Perspective On Irregular Heartbeat And Emotional Well-Being
Ayurveda considers an expectant mother’s emotional well-being to be important for a healthy pregnancy. And emotions can affect your heart rate. For instance, when you are angry, your heart pounds and your face flushes. According to Ayurveda, your pitta dosha (the dosha dominated by the elements of fire and water) is aggravated in this case.
On the other hand, when you are scared, adrenaline courses through your body and your heart races anxiously. Here, vata dosha (the dosha dominated by the elements of air and ether) is aggravated. These emotions are thought to percolate to your baby too. On the other hand, if you are in a happy, contented state of mind your baby experiences those emotions. It is, therefore, recommended that expectant mothers avoid negativity as far as possible and refrain from watching (or reading) scary, violent, or emotionally intense material. Meditation is also considered to have a calming influence during this time.11
What About Your Baby’s Heart Rate?
The heart rate of a fetus normally varies between 120–160 beats per minute. As your baby moves around in the womb, some irregularity in heartbeat is normal. It is also common in the second trimester as your baby’s heart matures. However, if the irregularity persists, medical intervention will be required. Your doctor will monitor this during pre-natal checkups. According to experts, excessive caffeine consumption, say, more than a cup of coffee a day, can cause irregularities in your baby’s heart rate, so cut down or avoid altogether.
In a majority of cases, irregular heartbeats in babies resolve on their own. But, sometimes, it can be indicative of a structural abnormality of the heart or other problems. Your doctor will monitor the heart rate of your baby, investigate its cause, and prescribe medication or take other steps to ensure the well-being of your baby.12
|↑1||Franklin, Wayne J., Mary Kay Benton, and Dhaval R. Parekh. “Cardiac disease in pregnancy.” Texas Heart Institute Journal 38, no. 2 (2011): 151.|
|↑2, ↑4||Beers, Mark H., Andrew J. Fletcher, T. V. Jones, R. Porter, M. Berkwitz, and J. L. Kaplan. The Merck manual of medical information. Pocket Books, 2003.|
|↑3||Arrhythmia. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑5||Symptoms, Diagnosis & Monitoring of Arrhythmia. American Heart Association.|
|↑6||Low blood sugar. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑7||Skipping a beat — the surprise of heart palpitations. Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑8||Hyperthyroidism. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑9||Pregnancy and Pre-existing Heart Disease. The University of Rochester.|
|↑10||Skipping a beat — the surprise of heart palpitations. Harvard Health Publications.|
|↑11||Sharma, Hari, and Christopher S. Clark. Ayurvedic Healing: Contemporary Maharishi Ayurveda Medicine and Science Second Edition. Singing Dragon, 2011.|
|↑12||Fetal Arrhythmia: Causes and Concerns. American Pregnancy Association.|