Swelling during pregnancy is very common, but it can be uncomfortable and last for weeks. Let's talk about why it happens, and how you can safely manage it.

 

 

By Dr. Kenosha Gleaton

Why does swelling occur during pregnancy? Swelling is a way your body prepares itself for the miracle of pregnancy and childbirth. You’ll likely notice swelling around your third trimester, sometimes starting at around 20 weeks or five months. The body retains and produces extra water and blood—some sources say up to 50% more than usual. While most of this extra fluid and blood is kept inside of your cells, some of it remains outside of cells to aid in oxygen, electrolyte, and waste management. This is what causes the swelling in your fingers, ankles, legs, and feet. 

When should I be concerned about swelling during pregnancy?

Swelling is a common and normal occurrence during pregnancy, however, there are a few things to watch out for:

  • Sudden and/or painful swelling could indicate a blood clot, especially if swelling is limited to one leg.
  • Rapid increase in swelling could be a sign of high blood pressure.
  • Pitting swelling—when you can push on the skin and leave an indentation—is cause for concern. This is also known as edema.
  • Significant swelling in the face, eyes, and hands could be a sign of preeclampsia, and you should see your OBGYN immediately.
  • Extreme tenderness, or feeling hot to the touch. These symptoms along with swelling, should prompt you to see your doctor.

Safe ways to reduce swelling during pregnancy at home

  • Give your feet a break. Don’t stand for long periods of time, and when possible, sit or lay down with your feet elevated. 
  • Try a cooling cream. This soothing, moisturizing cream is perfect for swollen ankles and feet (it even smells great!)
  • Sleep on your left side. The main vein that returns blood to the heart is on the right side of your body; therefore, side-sleeping on your left can take some pressure off of the vein and aid in blood flow. 
  • Wear loose clothing. Let your body breathe; avoid any tight bands on clothing, especially around your ankles and calves. 
  • Stay active. Taking daily walks or other forms of pregnancy-safe exercise helps keep the body moving and your blood flowing. 
  • Reduce sodium, which will reduce swelling related to dehydration.
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Swelling during pregnancy and gender

There are many wives’ tales that claim to predict gender. One common belief is that swelling in the ankles and feet indicates the baby is a boy. Unfortunately, there is no truth to this claim, nor scientific evidence to suggest swelling can indicate gender. 

To sum it up

Many women experience swelling during pregnancy, especially in the third trimester when the body is preparing for childbirth. It can be uncomfortable, but usually isn’t cause for concern if you don't have other worrisome symptoms. Staying active, resting your feet, and wearing loose clothing can help relieve some of the discomfort. To read more about pregnancy discomfort and relief, check out Bumpin’ or Natalist’s pregnancy blog.