Swollen Feet During Pregnancy

Perhaps you've noticed that your belly isn't the only thing getting bigger right now. Your feet also are particularly vulnerable to swelling during pregnancy. While pregnant, you have more blood and other fluids circulating in your body -- as much as six to eight extra quarts. And because of gravity, some of that fluid settles in your feet, says Jane Andersen, a podiatrist in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and a spokeswoman for the American Podiatric Medical Association.

Many women notice the swelling throughout pregnancy, but especially during the third trimester. It seems to be worse during the summer months, presumably because of the heat.

What do I do about swollen feet?

Because gravity plays a big role in swelling, elevate your feet at least three to four times a day. When lying on a sofa or in bed, prop your feet up on pillows; when sitting in a chair, place your feet on a footstool. (This also helps prevent back pain.) Here are some more tips:

  • Don't sit for long periods of time. Make it a point to get up and walk for a few minutes of every hour.
  • Wear full-length support stockings as often as possible, and avoid socks with tight bands around the calf or ankle.
  • Exercise regularly. Water aerobics are ideal because the "hydrostatic" pressure helps distribute fluids that have pooled in your feet.
  • Ask your partner, if you have one, to give you a foot massage. It will increase circulation and help disperse the edema.
  • Increase your fluid intake. It seems counterintuitive, but the more water you drink, the less swelling and water retention you'll experience.
  • Don't squeeze your feet into ill-fitting shoes.

Will my feet go back to their "normal" size after pregnancy?

Usually. Even though the fluid-related swelling will disappear within a few days of delivering your baby, some women find that their feet are as much as a size larger following a pregnancy. For that you can blame the hormone relaxin. Relaxin helps loosen your pelvic joints in preparation for your baby's journey down the birth canal.

Can swollen feet ever be a sign that something is wrong?

Some swelling in your feet during pregnancy is normal, but if it appears abruptly or if you notice that you are also getting swelling in your hands at the same time, call your health-care provider immediately: These could be signs of preeclampsia, a type of pregnancy-related high blood pressure than can be very dangerous. You should be aware, too, that diuretics to reduce water retention are considered unsafe for pregnant women, unless they are advised by a physician to treat preeclampsia.

References

Mayo Clinic. Health Tips for Swollen Feet. http://www.mayoclinic.org/

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Low Back Pain Fact Sheet. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/backpain/detail_backpain.htm

Kent, T., Gregor, J., et al. Edema of pregnancy: A comparison of water aerobics and static immersion. Obstetrics & Gynecology, November 1999, Volume 94. http://www.greenjournal.org/cgi/content/abstract/94/5/726

American Pregnancy Association. Swelling During Pregnancy. http://www.americanpregnancy.org/pregnancyhealth/pregnancyswelling.html

Boise State University. Massage. http://rec.boisestate.edu/facilities/massage/index.asp

Nemours Foundation. 10 Things That Might Surprise You About Being Pregnant. http://kidshealth.org/parent/pregnancy_newborn/pregnancy/pregnancy.html

March of Dimes. Preeclampsia/High Blood Pressure. http://www.marchofdimes.com/pnhec/188_1054.asp

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