17 Ways to Reduce Pregnancy Swelling
There’s no getting around it: pregnancy makes you swell. In fact, about 25% of the weight you gain while pregnant is actually related to swelling. While it’s on the normal list of pregnancy symptoms, swelling can be entirely bothersome and uncomfortable.
Is there anything a pregnant woman can do about it?
Truth be told, you won’t be able to avoid swelling entirely, but the good news is that there are many ways to temporarily relieve it and to prevent it from getting worse.
The medical term for this swelling is edema. When fluid is trapped somewhere in your body, that area gets puffy. For pregnant women, the edema is often found in in the face, hands, legs, ankles, and feet.
Let’s learn why this swelling occurs, when you can expect it to begin and end, and 17 helpful ways to reduce pregnancy edema (we’ll wrap up with a special word of caution).
Here’s a Question: Why Do Pregnant Women Swell?
Here are the top reasons why women experience swelling during pregnancy:
1. More Blood and More Fluids
Pregnant women simply have more blood and fluids to support the growth and development of another human being inside of them. How much more? A pregnant body produces around 50% more! Since edema is all about fluid retention, this one makes perfect sense.
By the time a full-term baby is born, it will typically be between 18 and 22 inches long. To fit something of that size in your belly, an area already stuffed with organs, your body needs to expand. Extra fluid actually helps this process by softening the body, but it can also cause swelling.
3. Joint Support
Your pelvic region will have some physical trauma during the delivery. Having extra fluid helps both “pad” and prepare those joints, so the delivery won’t have lasting negative effects.
4. Vein Pressure
The bigger your uterus gets, the more pressure it puts on your vena cava, a large vein on the right side of your body. The vena cava is responsible for bringing blood from your lower extremities back up to your heart.
That pressure causes pinching and reduced blood flow, which in turn can cause swelling.
5. Relaxed Veins
When your veins are more relaxed (as they can be in pregnancy), it can be harder for them to work against gravity and get the blood back up where it belongs. This can lead to some edema.
When Does Pregnancy Swelling Start?
You can technically begin to swell at any time during your pregnancy.
However, it’s most common in the second trimester and often at its worst in the third trimester. In most cases, it will last until you deliver.
A few women might not experience much swelling at all (lucky them!). So, if your ankles stay their original size, don’t worry!
17 Ways to Reduce Swelling During Pregnancy
You will not be able to avoid swelling entirely, but there are certain steps you can take to reduce the swelling and ensure you aren’t making the issue worse through lifestyle choices.
Here are some practical steps you can take to reduce the edema and your lack of comfort.
1. Take a load off.
This is a matter of mechanics. If your body is made up almost entirely of water and you stand for a long period of time, that water is going to stick around in your lower extremities – like your feet and ankles.
If you must stand for work, be sure to walk to the bathroom or break room every hour. When you are on your lunch break, elevate your feet. And while standing, rotate your ankles and flex your feet as much as possible.
2. But keep moving.
Each woman will be a little different in what level of exercise she can tolerate during her pregnancy. For some, a regular gym routine may be fine. For others, very gentle prenatal yoga may be all they can handle. Your doctor will help guide you in the right direction.
Whatever pregnancy-safe and doctor-approved exercises you can do, do them regularly. Movement is one of the best fighters against swelling.
3. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
Don’t think that struggling with fluid retention means you should drink less water. The opposite is true! Water will actually help you urinate more frequently, flush out excess sodium, and even minimize swelling.
Drink at least 8 or 10 glasses of water daily.
4. Keep it breezy.
Constricting clothes are only going to make blood and fluid movement even more static, so opt for breezier clothes. Try to find larger socks that do not leave indentation marks when you take them off.
Bonus: You’ll be more comfortable!
5. A poolside prescription.
Walking or standing in water can actually help relieve swelling in the feet and ankles. It’s not a long-term solution, but it does bring relief. Many women find floating to be a great pain relief in general – and you can even find pregnancy floats with cut-outs for your belly plus getting some Vitamin D is just another benefit.
6. Go lo-so.
While you already have to follow a specific list of foods you can and can't eat, sodium causes the body to hold on to extra water instead of releasing it properly. Anybody who consumes too much sodium may experience some uncomfortable water retention. So, if a pregnant woman has too much salt, she’s really in for some extra swelling.
Aside from simply limiting salt itself, be sure to check the sodium grams on any pre-packaged food – especially soups, sauces, and frozen food.
7. Unless It’s Epsom Salt.
Soaking your tired, swollen feet in an Epsom salt bath feels great (and that alone is reason enough!). But there’s also a theory that the high magnesium content in those Epsom salts may help decrease the swelling too. Win/Win.
8. Put up your feet.
Whenever you are sitting down, elevate your legs. It relieves pressure and allows your feet to drain (sounds gross, but feels wonderful). It’s time to bring a table, poof, or stack of pillows by your favorite chair.
Make it your goal to get your feet above heart level a couple times a day. Sometimes the easiest way to do this is to elevate your feet on pillows or a rolled-up blanket when in bed.
9. Put away the heels.
If you haven’t tossed out your uncomfortable high heels yet, let pregnancy be your permission slip! Choose shoes that feel great, don’t pinch, and provide support. Not only will this help prevent swelling, but it will also provide more comfort when you are dealing with edema.
10. To0 cool for school.
Everybody swells up a little bit in the heat of summertime, so it certainly makes swelling in pregnancy even worse. Try to avoid spending too much time outside during the heat of the day, opt for morning or evening excursions.
And don’t be afraid to bring in a fan or turn the air conditioning down an extra degree while pregnant.
11. Cold compress express.
Placing a cool towel on your swollen extremities can help reduce some of the swelling and provide some physical relief from the discomfort. Your feet elevation sessions are a great time to use a cold compress.
12. Foot massages are marvelous.
Welcome to the most pleasurable step on this list! Gently massaging the feet is one of the best ways to relieve pressure, pain, and swelling. Get your partner, a friend, or a professional to massage your feet regularly.
But even self-massage can work wonders!
13. Support stockings to the rescue.
These may not be the cutest tights you’ve ever worn in your life, but compression stockings can really make a swelling difference. Just get it approved by your doctor on your next visit before you start wearing them!
14. Go left!
Remember how pressure on that vena cava is one of the many reasons you’re swollen? It’s on the right side of your body. By sleeping on your left side, you are removing some of that pressure and, therefore, removing some of that swelling.
A long pregnancy pillow may make that position more comfortable.
Where sodium increases water retention, potassium helps balance you back out again. Here are some of the top sources of potassium. Eat up!
- Baked potato
- Tomato paste and sauce (homemade or low sodium)
- White beans
- Sweet potato
- Swiss Chard
- Lima Beans
16. Dyin’ for a diuretic.
Taking a diuretic to relieve swelling is never a good idea unless it’s prescribed by your doctor. It can be harmful to the fetus and your health during this time. However, the world of produce gives us very mild “diuretics” that simply support the body’s natural excretion process.
17. Watch that sweet tooth!
Sugar won’t make you retain fluids, but insulin sure can. Wreaking havoc on your blood sugar with too much ice cream and cookies can only add to the swelling problem. A healthier diet will help you have a better, more comfortable pregnancy anyway!
Can Swelling During Pregnancy Become Dangerous?
For the most part, pregnancy swelling is a normal and a non-harmful symptom. However, in some cases it can be a sign of the dangerous condition, preeclampsia.
Preeclampsia is a pregnancy-only condition that leads to high blood pressure. It can be harmful for both you and the baby.
Here are some of the signs that let you know you are experiencing preeclampsia and not normal pregnancy swelling:
- Sudden swelling in your hands, face, or feet
- Severe headache
- Vision changes (liked blurriness or sensitivity to light)
- Nausea or vomiting
- Urinating less
- Shortness of breath
As you can tell, many of these are very normal symptoms experienced during pregnancy, which can make diagnosis confusing.
Be sure you attend regular appointments and that your doctor checks your blood pressure each time and also tests for protein in your urine (this is common).
It is important that oral or IV mediations are administered in time, so if you have even the slightest suspicion that your pregnancy swelling isn’t normal, call your doctor right away.
A Brief World on Lessening Pregnancy Edema
Though getting rid of pregnancy swelling entirely is not in the cards, take advantage of these tips for reducing edema. They will help make you as comfortable as possible as you press on toward your due date.
Often, women experience edema more so at the end of the day. Take care to focus on these tips after work.
Then remember – never be afraid to talk about pregnancy swelling concerns with your doctor.