Is High White Blood Cells (WBC) Count in Pregnancy Normal?

Is High White Blood Cells (WBC) Count in Pregnancy Normal?

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Sanjana Sainani (Gynecologist/Obstetrician)
View more Gynecologist/Obstetrician Our Panel of Experts

Pregnancy brings many changes to a woman’s body. Over a period of nine months, a woman goes through a lot of physical, mental, and emotional changes that can be quite traumatic if one is not aware of these changes. One such change that causes fear is the haematological change or the changes that occur in the blood. These changes are related to platelets, haemoglobin, red blood cells, and white blood cells.

What Are White Blood Cells?

The cells within the immune system are white blood cells. They shield the body against alien particles and kill any element that might cause harm to the body. Scientifically known as leukocytes, these cells are found throughout the body. Hence, these become an indicator of how physically fit, unfit, or sick one is.

What is the Role of White Blood Cells?

The white blood cells that are produced in the bone marrow have various functions. On a general note, their principal aim is to be the horsepower of the immune system, but in particular, different sets of white blood cells have different roles.

  1. Neutrophils: They are mostly populated by the cells and take the largest room. They fight infections of bacterial or fungal nature.
  2. Monocytes: These pull and suck in toxic waste and bacteria, eventually destroying them.
  3. Eosinophils: These are the soldiers who shield the body against parasites and allergic reactions.
  4. Basophils: They may be lesser than 1% of white blood cells, but they work hard at regularising blood flow and increasing cells for the immune system to stay strong through illness.
  5. Lymphocytes: They produce antibodies against foreign particles and destroy them.

Changes That Are Specific to the Types of WBC

The increase or decrease of these five types of white blood cells will lead to changes in the body. This is a key factor that causes imbalance due to haemolytic change during pregnancy.

  • The white blood cell count increases when the immune system is fighting an infection. The high population of these cells indicates a requirement for support of the immune system. The causes could be trauma, pregnancy, allergic reactions, or autoimmune disorder. Some symptoms linked to increased white blood cells are fever, dizziness, frequent allergic reactions, and inflammation.
  • White blood cells decrease when an infection dominates the cells, which makes the immune system weak and further weakens the body. The causes of it could be bone marrow malfunction, infections, and sepsis. Some symptoms linked to decreased white blood cells are lethargy, tiredness, and serious compilations of simple infections.

These changes are applicable to everyone. Pregnant women would see some similar changes, and during most times, these changes are harmless:

1. Neutrophils

There is an increase in these cells during pregnancy, but it’s not dangerous to the body or the foetus. It only indicates the bone marrow’s response to the increased production of red blood cells.

2. Monocytes

During the onset of pregnancy, the mother’s immune system goes through alterations to avoid attacking the foetus. One of the alterations observed is the increase of monocytes. However, the side-effects of this are that it can lead to certain complications in pregnancy like preeclampsia. To remove these fears, the doctor may advise a test when the monocytes are observed to be too high.

3. Eosinophils

There is no change in the count of these cells. Any change will be an indication of a weak immunity or the attack of an infection.

4. Basophils

There is no significant change in the number of Basophils.

5. Lymphocytes

It decreases in the first two trimesters and increases in the last trimester and postpartum. These changes are due to suppression of immunological activity during pregnancy.

What is the Normal White Blood Cell Count During Pregnancy?

The total white blood cells in average non-pregnant women are between 4,500 – 11,000/ cu mm. During pregnancy, the minimum count to be maintained is 6000/ cu mm. In the third trimester, a range between 12000-18000 per microliter is considered as normal.

What Happens if You Have High WBC Count in Pregnancy?

As the immune system adjusts itself to your little one growing inside, you can expect the white blood cell count to increase at different intervals. This is nothing out of the ordinary and any thought of a grave medical emergency needs to be dismissed immediately.

However, if there are symptoms such as feverhypertension, acute stress or any other immunity-related problems, do visit the doctor immediately.

Causes of High WBC Count During Pregnancy

The causes of an increase or decrease in various types of white blood cells for a pregnant or non-pregnant woman are similar. An unknown extreme increase causes a pathological condition and it is best to avoid certain elements that would cause it to increase. The top four causes are explained here:

1. Stress

Stress during pregnancy is not just emotional but also physical. This causes the white blood cell count to be higher than the usual rate to shield the body from harm. Therefore, you should practise yoga and meditation to de-stress.

A pregnant woman stressed

2. Infection

Any bacterial or fungal infection varying from the common cold to UTI increases the white blood cells. Take precautions to keep yourself safe from such infections. Your immune system is busy shielding you, now more than ever, so take good care of yourself.

3. Inflammation

Inflammatory diseases and related allergic reactions would lead to an increase, too. White blood cells rush to areas that need help and mature. Breathing techniques and avoiding allergic areas completely would help.

4. Leukaemia or Autoimmune Disease

Autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s diseases, Graves’ disease, or Leukaemia increase non-functional white blood cells. Unlike other cases, these cells do not do anything but just increase to alarming quantities.

When to Consult a Doctor

Though the white blood cell count is much higher in pregnant women, there are certain symptoms to look out for, which may be a cause for concern. Consult your doctor, immediately, if you notice:

1. Fever and Pain

Fever and pain are signs that your body is fighting an infection. It is necessary for the doctor to diagnose the cause and treat you appropriately before it causes harm to you or the foetus.

2. Breathing Issues

If you experience issues with breathing, such as shortness of breath, wheezing, etc., make sure to consult a doctor immediately. It could be a sign of an allergic reaction in the lungs, which must be treated as soon as possible.

3. Rashes, Itchiness or Hives

Allergy to the skin, causing rashes, itchiness, hives, or redness could potentially be dangerous and indicative of an infection, so make sure to consult your doctor for the appropriate treatment.

Innumerable changes occur during pregnancy and afterwards. Increase in white blood cells during pregnancy is not something to worry about, but any sign of immune weakness is a sign to visit the doctor. These usually change to strengthen a mother’s body and the womb. However, keep listening to your body. If you do feel uncomfortable, visit the doctor and always stay positive. A happy mother usually translates to a happy pregnancy.

Also Read: CBC Test during Pregnancy

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Aarohi Achwal holds a bachelor’s degree in Commerce and a master’s degree in English Literature. While working as an intern for an English daily, she realised that she likes writing above anything else. The idea of being heard without having to speak appeals to her. She likes to write research-based articles that are informative and relevant. She has written articles on pregnancy, parenting, and relationships. And she would like to continue creating content on health and lifestyle.