Your belly isn’t the only thing that’s swelling these days – you may notice mild swelling throughout your body during pregnancy and, thanks to the laws of gravity, particularly in your feet and ankles. The amount of swelling you experience can vary by the hour (increasing in the evening) and by the weather (warmer temperatures forecast more swelling).
WHEN DO FEET SWELL DURING PREGNANCY?
Edema affects about three-quarters of pregnant women starting around week 22 to week 27 of pregnancy, and it will likely stick around until you give birth (on the bright side, pretty soon you won’t be able to see anything below your belly anyway).
WHAT CAUSES SWOLLEN ANKLES AND FEET DURING PREGNANCY?
During pregnancy, edema occurs when body fluids increase to nurture both you and your baby and accumulate in your tissues as a result of increased blood flow and pressure of your growing uterus on the pelvic veins and your vena cava (the large vein on the right side of your body that returns blood from your lower limbs to the heart). This causes you to experience this oh-so-necessary increase as oh-so-annoying swelling – particularly swollen ankles and feet (but also your hands, as you may have noticed when you last tried to take off your rings). You might also be sporting more swelling in your feet if your weight gain has been on the faster side.
ARE THERE RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH SWOLLEN ANKLES AND FEET?
Although it sure isn’t swelling (especially when you try to squeeze into your shoes at the end of the day, when puffiness is at its peak), mild swelling of the ankles and feet caused by edema is harmless and perfectly normal. It’s also just as normal not to experience noticeable swelling (one in four lucky pregnant women don’t). However, if your hands and/or face become puffy or if swelling persists for more than a day at a time (it doesn’t improve overnight), call your practitioner. Excessive swelling can be one sign of preeclampsia – but when it is, it’s accompanied by a variety of other symptoms (such as elevated blood pressure, rapid weight gain and protein in the urine). If your blood pressure and urine are normal (they’re checked at each prenatal visit), there’s nothing to be concerned about.
HOW TO STOP FEET FROM SWELLING WHILE PREGNANT:
- Avoid long periods of standing or sitting.
If you’re on your feet a lot, take breaks and have a seat. If you’re sitting down a lot, take a five-minute stroll at least once an hour.
- Kick up your feet.
If possible, elevate your legs when you’re sitting. Who has a better excuse to put up her feet than a pregnant woman?
- Sleep on your side.
If you don’t already, try sleeping on your side (preferably your left) – it helps keep your kidneys humming along, which in turn helps waste elimination and reduces swelling.
- Move it.
Try to get some pregnancy-appropriate exercise, such as walking (which keeps the blood flowing instead of pooling) or swimming, if your practitioner OKs it (the water pressure pushes fluids from your tissues back into your veins, where it goes to your kidneys so you can pee it out).
- Avoid tight elastic-top socks or stockings.
Your goal is to let blood and fluids flow as freely as possible.
- Wear comfy shoes.
Especially while you’re out (those sexy slingbacks don’t fit now, anyway). Consider orthotic shoes or inserts as well, which can make your feet feel better and can reduce leg and back pain during pregnancy too. Once you get home, switch to a pair of soft slippers.
- Try support hose.
Opt for full pantyhose (with extra tummy room) or knee- or thigh-highs (a better choice if you’re perpetually warm) that aren’t tight on top. Whichever type of support hose you choose, put them on in the morning before the daily swelling starts so they can do their job more effectively.
- Drink lots of water.
It may seem counterintuitive to try to flush out fluids with fluids, but drinking eight to ten glasses of water a day will help rid your system of excess sodium and other waste products, minimizing swelling.
- Don’t go crazy with the salt shaker.
Limiting salt too many increases swelling – so don’t cut it out entirely. But like everything, it’s best to keep your intake in moderation and salt to taste.
ANOTHER REASON FOR TIGHTER SHOES: FOOT GROWTH
In addition to edema, there’s another factor at play if your shoes are feeling a bit snug: Like the rest of the ligaments in your body, the ones in your feet are loosening thanks to the hormone relaxin, allowing the bones to spread out. If you stick with your old shoes, your feet may feel pinched. After a few months, the swelling will recede and the extra weight will fall away (usually). But although your joints and ligaments will tighten up, your feet may remain permanently larger — up to a full shoe size. Shoe shopping, anyone?