Swollen feet, or edema, is one of the most common and bothersome pregnancy symptoms.
Suddenly, your favourite pair of shoes will be too small for your feet, but, of course, that won’t be the worst thing: It can make standing or sitting uncomfortable, as well as make some pregnant women feel unattractive.
Though it can be incredibly unpleasant, swollen feet during pregnancy is very normal. Fortunately, it’s also temporary and can be somewhat prevented and managed through behaviour changes. Keep reading to learn all about edema in pregnancy and how to find some relief!
What is edema?
Edema is a word used to describe a condition in which the tissues in the body retain more fluids than usual. This can happen to non-pregnant women and pregnant women alike, though it’s very common when a woman is with child. In fact, 75% of all pregnancies will bring with them some amount of edema.
You can expect to start notice swollen feet and swollen ankles when being 22 weeks pregnant to 27 weeks pregnant. Unfortunately, it usually sticks around until after delivery. But it tends to disappear very soon afterward! And that isn’t to say that you will experience constant, unbearable swelling. In fact, most women see fluctuations in the severity, especially depending on the time of day, or even the season in the year. Typically, swelling is worse in the evening and in the summertime.
What causes swollen feet in pregnancy?
There are many factors that contribute to swollen feet being so common and severe during pregnancy. A major point is that the body simply needs more fluids to sustain your life and the life of your growing child, who receives all of his nutrients and oxygen from your blood flow.
As your baby grows larger, your uterus will expand with him. This exerts more pressure than usual on all the veins in the pelvic area, particularly the vena cava, which is the artery that brings blood back up to your heart from your lower body. When this vein is squeezed a bit, blood tends to pool in the lower extremities.
Though it sounds a tad dramatic, the whole swollen feet phenomenon is just a natural part of pregnancy. You and your little guy are just fine!
Feet can also grow during pregnancy because the hormone relaxin is causing your ligaments to stretch out, which may allow the bones in your feet to spread farther apart than before. And they may never shrink back to your former size after pregnancy! You might need to hit up the shoe sales after giving birth!
How can you prevent swollen feet in pregnancy?
You may not be able to completely prevent swollen feet during pregnancy, but you can certainly take proactive measures to reduce the severity of the problem. Here are some great tips for helping to prevent swollen feet:
- Stay hydrated – Though it may seem counterintuitive because you have excess fluids in your body, drinking water will help. Your body will naturally retain more water when it is beginning to get dehydrated. So the more you drink, the less your body will need to hold onto!
- Be moderate with salt – Excess sodium can cause fluid retention in everyone, not just pregnant women. Ironically, so can lack of sodium. The key is to eat a moderate amount of sodium.
- Exercise – Once again, exercise is one of the best remedies for a negative pregnancy symptom. It will keep the blood flowing and prevent pooling.
- Don’t sit or stand all day – The trick here is to assume many different positions throughout the day. You don’t want to spend too much time either sitting or standing, but rather a bit of time doing each.
- Don’t cross your legs – Though it may feel the most ladylike, this position puts even more pressure on your already squeezed blood vessels.
- Wear support hose – These special stockings are designed to help blood flow throughout your lower body.
- Wear comfortable shoes – We cannot stress this enough! Tight shoes are going to make you miserable and worsen the problem. When pregnant, comfort is the most important thing!
- Sleep on your left side – The vena cava is on the right side of your body, and sleeping on the left takes off a bit of the pressure that is put on it throughout the day, making blood able to flow more easily while you sleep.
How can you relieve it?
Even if you follow all of our advice, you may still suffer from some swollen feet during pregnancy. So here’s how to minimise the discomfort and time it takes to get feeling better:
- Immediately elevate your feet. This will allow gravity to work in your favour and bring the blood back to the upper part of your body.
- Take a walk. After you’ve rested a bit, try getting some blood pumping again.
- Remove any tight socks, stockings, or shoes. Slippers and loose, comfy socks are your new best friends.
- Do leg stretches. Point your toes, flex your feet, and wiggle your ankles around for a quick jolt to your circulation.
When should you worry about it?
In the majority of edema cases during pregnancy, there is absolutely nothing to worry about. Occasionally, however, swelling can be a sign of other conditions like preeclampsia or a blood clot, especially when accompanied by other symptoms. Here are some red flags that will tell you to call your doctor:
- Hands are also extremely swollen (mild swelling is alright)
- Swelling in the face, especially around the eyes
- Swelling lasts for more than 24 hours, or doesn’t get better during the night
- You also have high blood pressure
- You also put on weight more quickly than expected during pregnancy
- One leg is much more swollen than the other
- You also have tenderness or pain in your leg