Pregnancy and Swelling

pregnant woman sitting on a bed

Most, if not all, women will experience swelling during pregnancy. Some women make it through with nominal swelling, while others will suffer with painfully swollen faces, hands, legs and feet. A certain degree of swelling during pregnancy is typical, and no cause for concern, but excessive swelling can be a symptom of a more serious pregnancy condition, preeclampsia.

Pregnancy requires the body to have additional fluid for the increase in circulating blood, amniotic fluid, and to meet the baby’s needs. Whether you drink more or less fluids, your body will retain what it must to meet these needs, even taking the fluid from the intestines, increasing your chances of getting constipated. In fact, your body retains so much additional fluid, you may be carrying up to 20 extra pounds (9 kg) of water weight by the end of your pregnancy.

In addition to the pregnancy hormones that contribute to swelling, poor circulation and gravity can exacerbate fluid retention. By half-way to the end of your second trimester, swelling should be rearing its ugly head. Some women on the other hand, start retaining fluid virtually from day one of their pregnancies. You may start to notice that by your fifth month, swelling has become a daily occurrence.

pregnant woman reading

Normal swelling is typically described as gravity edema, swelling that gets better or worse with gravity. If you find that long periods of time spent standing results in some swelling around your legs, feet and hands, you have gravity edema. This, along with a normal weight gain, normal blood pressure and the absence of protein in your urine is not cause for concern.

If you experience severe, and/or sudden swelling in your face or extremities, then you may have preeclampsia. A particular cause for concern is when you experience extreme swelling along with high blood pressure, headache and what is called “pitting edema.” Pitting edema occurs when simple pressure on the swollen extremity results in denting. If your swelling doesn’t subside after putting your legs up for an hour, then you may be developing preeclampsia.

Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot you can do about swelling during pregnancy, especially if you have significant swelling, or you’re towards the end of your third trimester. It’s also hard to avoid during hot and humid weather. Try the following to alleviate your swelling:

  • Avoid one position for extended periods of time, especially standing or sitting
  • Try putting your feet up whenever you can — as soon as you get home be sure to get your shoes off and your feet up.
  • Improve your circulation by getting good, low impact exercise and plenty of fluids.
  • Sleep on your left side — this improves blood flow and circulation to your uterus, and lower extremities.
  • Avoid tight socks and wristbands which may reduce circulation.
  • Limit your salt intake, and be mindful of processed foods and soda which may have more sodium than you think.

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