Moms-to-be expect, and often embrace, their growing baby bumps. But when other areas start to grow or swell too, it may be less than pleasant.
Pregnancy edema or pregnancy swelling occurs in up to 75% of pregnant women. For most women it appears around the midway point of pregnancy and lasts until shortly after childbirth. It is caused by an increase in bodily fluids, especially blood. In fact, your body produces approximately 50% more blood and fluid during pregnancy than when not pregnant. This extra blood is necessary to help sustain your baby during pregnancy. After all, you are pumping blood for two during this precious period of constant growth and development.
Here’s what is happening: The weight of the uterus puts pressure on pelvic veins as well as the vena cava, a vein that carries blood from the lower half of your body to your heart. Swelling is a result of this pressure from extra fluids. Additionally, your body may be retaining water throughout pregnancy, which contributes to pregnancy edema. Extra fluids help keep joints and tissues mobile and ready for delivery, and soften the body to nurture your baby.
Typically, pregnancy edema is most prevalent in the feet and ankles. These areas can swell quite a bit and may swell worse at nighttime or in hot weather. Lower extremities tend to swell worse due to gravity. Hands can also swell, which is why you may find it difficult to take off or put on rings that typically fit perfectly. Don’t have them resized just yet! This symptom usually goes away within days or a few short weeks after your baby arrives.
Because pregnancy edema is so common, it is usually not a cause for concern. Mild swelling is normal, however severe, sudden or prolonged swelling can be a sign of a bigger problem. Obstetricians become concerned that pregnancy swelling is a sign of preeclampsia if it is paired with high blood pressure and rapid weight gain. But swelling alone usually does not predict preeclampsia.
Pregnancy edema can become worse if you are consuming excessive salt or caffeine. Also, swelling is a sign of low potassium in your diet. Standing or sitting for too long may cause your feet and legs to swell too.
Although some level of edema may not be avoidable, you can try a few ways to reduce swelling. First, don’t sit or stand for too long and don’t spend too much time outdoors in the heat. If you find your feet are swelling, lean back and prop your legs to allow blood to flow smoothly. Don’t wear restrictive socks that may reduce circulation to your feet and ensure you’re always wearing comfortable shoes that will allow your feet to breathe.
Soaking in a pool or bath may relieve swelling or try cool compresses in the areas that are most affected. Drink plenty of water to help flush your system and encourage the release of water retention through urination. Also, watch that your diet is not contributing to the condition.
Swelling in unexpected areas beyond your belly is a normal part of pregnancy. Do what you can to reduce pregnancy edema and relieve your discomfort. If the problem is persistent or unbearable, contact your OB for consultation.