Floating Through Pregnancy: High Blood Pressure
“Okay, here she comes with the cuff. Slow, deep breaths. Relax. Think calming thoughts… Dammit... I can feel my heartbeat inside my ears. That’s bad, right? I think I’m still winded from walking up all those steps. WHY do they do the exams on the second floor??? Just be calm. Relax. She’s getting the other cuff - that buys me another couple minutes. Come on 120s!”
This was the drill at every single prenatal visit towards the end of the pregnancy with my first child. I crossed my fingers and prayed that my blood pressure hadn’t moved too far into the danger zone, thus ruining my chances of having the home birth I’d been planning for.
My first pregnancy, I ate well and I exercised pretty religiously. However I have a genetic propensity towards high blood pressure and it was exploiting my pregnant status. At my very first prenatal visit, around 10 weeks along, I came in at around 125/75. High enough that my BP warranted careful monitoring going forward. I started taking fish oil. I ate lots of fruit and veggies. I walked anywhere from a mile to two miles a day all the way through to the 40+ week mark. I FELT good but my BP continued to rise - slowly, thankfully. Towards the end of my pregnancy I began to feel dread every time my midwife got that damned cuff out. By the time my due date came I was bouncing around in the 130/80 range. Not good, but I had no other signs of preeclampsia and it was not high enough to exclude me from having a homebirth.
Fast forward to January 2015. I find out I’m pregnant with my second child. The first trimester was rough. My husband and I had just opened Fadeaway Floatation Center. On top of that, I had a horrific sinus and throat issue that would NOT let up. It stuck with me consistently through probably the end of April. The sinus troubles really put a damper on my planned floating regimen. The humidity within the tank made my fragile sinuses close up instantly. The salt in the air of the tanks irritated my already raw throat to the point of coughing fits. Full length, truly relaxing float sessions came few and far between.
At my first prenatal visit in February 2015, my BP clocked in at 138/84.
I was starting out MUCH higher than I did with my first pregnancy. I knew from experience it would likely continue to creep up, just as it did the first time. Not good. Not good at all. There were a number of factors contributing to my blood pressure being so high. Genetics, the stress of opening the business, my illness, and the fact that I was starting out this pregnancy a bit heavier than I was with my first. I wasn’t eating as well and I certainly wasn’t exercising as consistently. I tried to put everything in the back of my mind. I still had a new business to run.
As the center got going and my sinus illness FINALLY started to loosen its grip on me, I believe my blood pressure did start to lower very slightly as a result of that. My numbers were still quite high however. Still significantly higher than where I started the first time around. I would try to float on the good days which also helped I’m sure - but there weren’t many good days throughout the entire first and part of the second trimester.
By mid May, my sinuses and throat had completely healed, which meant I could start floating regularly again. My first real session after the hiatus was SUCH a relief, I vowed to float 1 to 3 times a week through the end of the pregnancy. This vow was made not as a result of my blood pressure specifically, but out of the desire to have some real ME time. Something I’d been neglecting to do up until that point. Time that was free of discomfort, constant multitasking and overstimulation. Time when I could truly rest, reboot, connect with my unborn child, and make up for the lack of good sleep.
The end of the float hiatus.
I had been so preoccupied, so busy with the business and all the changes happening within my life that hadn’t been monitoring my BP the way that I should. I wasn’t asking my midwives what my BP was after they took it - I think I preferred to live in denial. I figured if it started measuring way too high they would say something about it. I decided that no news was good news and I hadn’t a real clue what my BP had checked out as for a number of visits. That was until my July prenatal appointment. My curiosity got the best of me, so after my BP was taken I asked the midwife what it was.
“122 over 70” she says.
That’s the lowest it has been since… Before I ever got pregnant with my first child. The lowest it has been in YEARS. Maybe it was a fluke? So later that day I logged in to the electronic records system that my midwives use. I looked at my numbers. It was no fluke.
An actual screen print of my actual numbers.
I will admit, I had to re-read those numbers several times. I was pretty surprised. Shocked even. I tried to think of other factors that might be of influence. I came up with nothing. My first pregnancy I craved pineapple and watermelon - this pregnancy I crave cupcakes. My first pregnancy I walked over every single break at the office I was working at. I always took the stairs (and I worked on the 4th floor). This pregnancy I'm on my feet for short stints in order to prepare float rooms and fold towels. Floating is the only real variable. Floating HAS to be the answer.
I don't know why I was so surprised. Floating's affect on blood pressure is one of the most touted, most well documented benefits:
After pretesting, subjects spent 10 45-min relaxation sessions in the tank with intervals ranging from 3 to 5 days. Results indicate that the flotation condition significantly reduced blood pressure and increased subjective relaxation. It is suggested that such a relaxation program may be used to treat essential hypertension. The effects of short term Flotation REST on relaxation: A controlled study. By Jacobs, Gregg D.; Heilbronner, Robert L.; Stanley, John M.Health Psychology, Vol 3(2), 1984, 99-112.
There are increases in EEG theta and alpha waves. Plasma and urinary cortisol, ACTH, aldosterone, renin activity, epinephrine, heart rate and blood pressure, all directly associated with stress, consistently decrease; hormones not related to stress, such as luteinizing hormone and testosterone, show no change. Health and therapeutic applications of chamber and floatation REST. By Peter Suedfeld and Roderick Borrie , Department of Psychology, the University of British Columbia, 1997
A meta-analysis by Dierendonck and Nijenhuis concluded that flotation-REST has positive effects on physiology (e.g., lower levels of cortisol, lower blood pressure and increased sense of well-being). Flotation-REST appears to be an effective treatment method and more effective than other relaxation techniques included in their study (i.e. muscle relaxation, biofeedback, and meditation.) Beneficial effects of treatment with sensory isolation in flotation-tank as a preventive health-care intervention – a randomized controlled pilot trial. Kjellgren and Westman BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2014
Those are just a few excerpts out of the hundreds of studies that are out there.
Now, I am well aware that my numbers are still in the prehypertension range. I'm also not sure why the diastolic number fluctuates as much as it does. But all in all, I am feeling MUCH better about my blood pressure changes throughout pregnancy than I did with my first. It's like a huge weight being lifted off my shoulders. I feel better about my health as well as the health of my unborn child. My midwives are very happy with these changes too, and that obviously means a lot.
I no longer freak out when I see my midwife grab that godforsaken cuff.
So there you have it. My story. You can claim it is biased because I own a float center, or anecdotal at best. Call it whatever you wish. I'm sharing my story because I know there are other women out there experiencing the same sense of dread I felt every time they see their care provide reach for the godforsaken cuff. And you know what? Maybe, just maybe, floating can help them too.
I obviously can't claim that floating is a "cure" for high blood pressure or preeclampsia - but by god if my story feels familiar to you - what do you have to lose? Floating carries ZERO risk. It has no negative side-effects. The cost is comparable to other holistic services like massage therapy. Obviously floating is something you need to commit to consistently based off both my experience and the numerous studies that have been done. At best you reap benefits that are on par with mine. At worst you spend some $, some time, and maybe get some saltwater in your eye.
I'd say it's worth giving it a shot, would you?