Some amount of swelling during pregnancy is normal, especially in the ankles, feet, and hands. Here’s what to watch for, plus simple ways to minimize the swelling.
Feeling a little more puffy than usual? Swelling during pregnancy is very common. Your hands, legs, and even your face can be affected, but feet and ankles tend to be the most impacted areas. Although pregnancy swelling can be experienced at any time, it’s often most noticeable around the fifth month and can increase during the third trimester.
A normal part of pregnancy, this swelling (also called edema) is caused by the additional blood and fluids—approximately 50 percent more—that your body produces to meet the needs of your developing baby. Fluid retention helps your body expand as your baby grows, and it usually resolves after delivery. In the meantime, there are steps you can take to keep pregnancy swelling to a minimum.
Know the swelling risks. Various factors may influence the puffiness you feel. What can make it worse?
- High temperatures
- Too much time on your feet
- Not enough potassium
- Too much caffeine
- Too much sodium
Decrease pregnancy swelling through your diet. Because of the diet risk factors above, it’s smart to eat foods that are high in potassium (bananas are one example) and limit caffeine and sodium. A prenatal supplement, such as Enfamil® Expecta®, can also help you reach your potassium target during pregnancy (4.7 grams).
Drink more, not less. Drinking water can reduce fluid retention by flushing out your system. Experts recommend about 12 cups (3 liters) a day.
Limit time on your feet. If swelling is a problem for you, avoid standing for extended periods of time and keep your feet elevated whenever possible.
Sleep on your side. Try to sleep on your left side to take the pressure off your inferior vena cava, the large vein responsible for transporting blood from the lower half of your body to your heart.
Adjust your wardrobe. Choose comfortable shoes over high heels. And ask your doctor if compression stockings or tights could provide added support to ease swelling.
Find cool relief. To lessen pregnancy swelling and any discomfort, apply cold compresses to swollen areas. Some experts also suggest taking to the pool for relief—the water pressure may help compress tissue in the legs, providing some temporary relief from swelling.
Watch for swelling symptoms to share with your doctor. While some puffiness is to be expected when you’re pregnant, sudden swelling in your face and hands or around the eyes could be a red flag for a serious condition called preeclampsia. Be sure to check with your doctor immediately if you notice any such inflammation. Also of concern is sudden and painful swelling in only one leg, as it could signify a blood clot, also known as deep vein thrombosis. For these conditions, you should seek prompt evaluation and treatment from your doctor.
Most swelling, however, is typical of the normal changes your body experiences when pregnant. In fact, approximately 25 percent of the weight most women gain during pregnancy can be attributed to the extra fluids.