Oedema is a buildup of fluid in body tissues that most commonly occurs in the third trimester in the feet and ankles. Exercising, supporting your feet, sleeping on your left side, and using compression stockings can all help reduce swelling in your feet and ankles during pregnancy. Preeclampsia or deep vein thrombosis, both of which require prompt medical intervention, can cause sudden severe swelling during pregnancy.
Your feet and ankles appear to have been swollen with water, and in some ways, they have been. The good news is that swelling in the feet and ankles during pregnancy is normally predictable and can be easily managed by following a few simple guidelines.
What is oedema?
Oedema is a type of swelling produced by the accumulation of fluid in the tissues of the body. Swelling of the feet and ankles is common during pregnancy and tends to get worse as the due date approaches.
It is common to experience swelling during pregnancy, especially in the lower extremities: according to some studies, about two in three women experience visible oedema during pregnancy. Mild to moderate oedema is a marker of healthy blood flow to the uterus, fetus, and placenta during pregnancy.
What are the causes of swelling of the feet and ankles (oedema) during pregnancy?
Your uterus dilates during pregnancy, straining your pelvic veins and your inferior vena cava (the large vein on the right side of the body that carries blood from your lower limbs to the heart). The pressure restricts the blood flow to your legs, causing a buildup and forcing fluid from your veins into the tissues of your feet and ankles.
The swelling can be exacerbated by hormonal changes and your body retains more fluids to support your pregnancy. You should expect to gain 2 to 3 pounds of water weight by the time your pregnancy ends! Gravity pulls fluids to your ankles and feet, which increases swelling when you spend a lot of time sitting or standing.
You may notice even more swelling in your legs, feet, and hands after childbirth. Fortunately, oedema will go away on its own in about a week, as your body eliminates the excess fluid. In the first few days after giving birth, you may notice that you pee a lot and sweat a lot. This is how your body gets rid of excess fluid.
When does swelling usually start during pregnancy?
Oedema is more likely to develop later in pregnancy, especially in the third trimester. Oedema is also more common at the end of the day and in warmer weather. This can be especially dangerous for women who have a lot of amniotic fluid and are pregnant with multiples.
Should I be concerned about swollen feet and ankles during pregnancy?
During pregnancy, moderate swelling of the ankles and feet is normal. Slight swelling of the hands and fingers is also possible. However, sometimes rapid and severe oedema can indicate a more serious problem, such as preeclampsia or a blood clot called deep vein thrombosis (DVT).
Both preeclampsia and DVT are risky for you and your baby, but they can be treated. It’s best if you check it out ASAP.
If you detect extreme and/or sudden swelling in your feet or ankles, call your doctor, especially if it is accompanied by any of these other symptoms of preeclampsia:
- Headaches that don’t seem to go away
- Sudden weight gain
- Changes in vision, such as spots or blurred vision
- Upper abdominal pain or shoulder pain
- Breathing problems
- More than moderate swelling of the hands or face
- After the 20th week of pregnancy, nausea or vomiting may occur.
Keep in mind that DVT almost rarely affects more than one leg at a time. If you notice any of the following symptoms of DVT, contact your healthcare professional immediately.
- One leg has a lot more swelling than the other.
- Pain or discomfort in the calf or thigh, which may look like cramps or stiffness
- Heat in the affected leg
- In the affected limb there is redness or discolouration.
DVT can sometimes lead to pulmonary embolism (PE), which occurs when a blood clot travels to the lungs. PE can be fatal, so if you notice any of the following symptoms, call 911 or go to the hospital just once.
- Shortness of breath that occurs suddenly
- The cough causes chest pain that gets worse.
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Rapid breathing or rapid pulse
What can I do to reduce swelling?
To reduce swelling during pregnancy, try the following suggestions:
- Wear the right socks. Compression pregnancy stockings, which are widely available, apply pressure to your feet and ankles. Put them on in the morning before you get up to prevent fluid from building up around your ankles. Additionally, socks or stockings with tight bands around the ankles or calves should be avoided.
- Get some exercise every day. Walking or riding an exercise bike are wonderful options for improving your overall health as well as eliminating oedema during pregnancy.
- Take a dip. According to several studies, even standing in a swimming pool can help reduce swollen feet and ankles during pregnancy. Swim a few lengths or participate in an aqua aerobics class while you are there for an activity suitable for pregnancy.
- To drink a lot of water. Drinking enough water, believe it or not, helps your body retain less fluid. Each day, drink about 10 to 8-ounce cups of water or other low-sugar liquids. (If your pee looks pale or light yellow, you’ve had enough.)
- Get a massage. Consult a licensed massage therapist who specializes in pregnant women: According to some studies, foot massage and reflexology can help relieve oedema in pregnant women.
- Take regular breaks when sitting or standing. Short, regular walks will prevent blood from pooling in your lower limbs.
- Stretch your legs. If you have to sit or stand for long periods, extend your leg, heel first, and gently flex your foot for about 30 seconds to stretch your calf muscles. Then wiggle your toes and twist your ankles about eight times in each direction.
- Sleep on your left side. This relieves the pressure on your vena cava and improves circulation to your lower limbs. Resting on the right side is also acceptable; however, if possible, avoid sleeping on your stomach.
- Support your feet. Put gravity on your side: Keep a stool or a stack of books under your desk at work to prevent fluid from building up in your lower limbs. Place a pair of pillows under your feet when you sleep.
- Wear comfortable shoes. To account for the swelling in your feet, choose shoes that stretch.
- Eat a healthy diet. Limiting salty junk food, which can cause water retention, is one way to do this. Instead, eat as many fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains as possible (think apple slices spread with peanut butter for a snack).
While it is unpleasant to have swollen feet and ankles during pregnancy, keep in mind that it will go away soon after giving birth.