Pregnancy Way Up High

For most women, high altitude pregnancy just means that the last month of gasping for breath may be a little more pronounced if they moved up at the wrong point in pregnancy! For others, there can be more serious issues.

Altitude has no specific cut-off point. The effects increase as altitude increases, and differences lower down are less noticeable than those higher up. The difference between sea level and 4000 feet is hardly perceptible. Usually people start to notice a bit of a difference between 5000 and 6000 feet. So most pregnant women won’t be affected unless they are up there a ways.

There are three major issues for pregnant women:

1. Breathing. If you have been here a while, you’ll not be any more uncomfortable at the end of your pregnancy than anyone else, because your body will have adjusted. If you move up high during the last two months though, it could get miserable pretty quick! Take it slow, get LOTS to drink, and try to get comfortable until your body adjusts – usually that takes about two weeks.

2. Placental Growth. At higher altitudes, the placenta grows larger than it does at low altitudes. This theoretically contributes to a higher than average incident of placenta previa. Most pregnancies are still normal though.

3. Diabetes Control. If you have gestational diabetes, being at very high altitudes can upset your blood sugar control. If you move from low to high altitudes, then monitor your blood sugar more carefully for the first few days, until your body adjusts, and you figure out how it is reacting.

Most problems will occur because of change. Moving from one altitude to another can cause temporary discomfort, and the more extreme the difference, the more likely it is to cause temporary problems.

Pregnancy is not a time during which it is advisable to journey to areas that are vastly higher than your normal environment. It is no time to take a vacation to Leadville (10,000 ft) if you normally live just above sea level. If an extreme move can be postponed, it is better.

We moved from Washington state to the foothills of the Rockies in Montana (3000 ft) when I was about 4 months pregnant with my sixth child. That was not enough to even notice a difference. We moved from Montana to Medicine Bow Wyoming (6200 ft) when I was 7 1/2 months pregnant with my seventh child – and THAT I noticed! I was fairly tired for the first few days, and became ill with nausea, headache, and stomach cramps within 24 hours – I am not sure what caused that, but it made me feel miserable! I got over that within two days, and gradually felt better. I gave birth to a healthy 9 lb boy a month and a half after we moved here.

I had to make sure to drink plenty of water, because I dried out so fast. The need for water increases normally when pregnant, and at higher altitudes this becomes even more essential since you exhale and perspire so much more moisture than you do at sea level.

The rules are pretty much the same as for anyone else, but with an added word of caution about breathing difficulties – be on the alert for problems and head them off early, because the consequences can be more dramatic than if you are not pregnant.

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