The moment you become pregnant, your body begins going through a series of incremental changes that prepare it to accommodate and support your developing baby. Starting in your second or third trimester, you may notice a new, yet unwelcome, effect of those changes: swelling.
Leg swelling — particularly in the lower calves, ankles, and feet — is a common experience for many pregnant women. Although it can be uncomfortable and frustrating, you can do a lot to manage the problem and alleviate your symptoms.
Read on as our team of board-certified experts at Vascular Vein Centers discusses the causes of normal pregnancy swelling, offers effective management strategies to help you control it, and explains when swelling may be cause for concern.
What causes normal pregnancy swelling?
Two main factors contribute to swelling (edema) during pregnancy. First, the increased blood volume and fluid production that your body makes to support healthy fetal development can be taxing on your own circulatory system. As your baby grows larger, sluggish blood flow can accumulate in your lower extremities and trigger swelling.
Your growing baby can also cause your expanding uterus to put pressure on your inferior vena cava (IVC), the large vein that’s tasked with carrying deoxygenated blood from your lower body (feet, legs, pelvis, and abdomen) back to your heart. A constrained IVC can also slow your blood flow and lead to swelling.
How can I manage pregnancy-related swelling?
Leg, ankle, and foot swelling is common in pregnancy. Though it can start any time, it usually emerges in the latter part of the second trimester. It’s also perfectly normal to see swelling increase both at the end of each day and toward the end of the third trimester.
Daily activity, seasonal temperatures and humidity levels, sodium intake, hydration status, and shoe choice are a few key variables that can influence swelling (make it better or worse).
The following strategies can help you minimize leg swelling as your pregnancy progresses:
Lie on your left side when you sleep
Use a body pillow to keep yourself propped onto your left side while you sleep. This can help ease pressure on the IVC, improving blood flow from your lower extremities.
Avoid standing still for long stretches
Standing still for long periods of time can trigger leg swelling or make an existing problem that much worse. When you’re going to be still, it’s best to sit in a chair — preferably with your legs elevated. To facilitate optimal blood flow, alternate between periods of rest and activity.
Wear compression stockings
If you can’t avoid being on your feet for long stretches because of your job (retail sales, food service, schoolteacher), our team may recommend wearing compression stockings during the day to help minimize leg swelling. Wearing well-fitting compression stockings can also help you prevent pregnancy-related varicose veins.
Make daily exercise a top priority
Take daily walks, ride a stationary bike, swim laps, or take a prenatal cardio class at your local gym. Whatever your preferred form of aerobic exercise during pregnancy happens to be, aim to make it a daily activity. Regular cardiovascular exercise is one of the most effective ways to stimulate your circulatory system and reduce normal pregnancy swelling.
Our team can also teach you a few simple exercises and stretches to help improve calf, ankle, and foot swelling.
Keep yourself well-hydrated
It may seem like counterintuitive advice, but drinking enough water to maintain light yellow to clear urine can help you ease normal pregnancy swelling. When you aren’t properly hydrated, your body holds excess fluids in case you need them. This natural physiological response can make swelling worse.
Drinking plenty of water flips the switch on this fluid-retaining mechanism and helps flush excess sodium and waste from your body, easing mild-to-moderate swelling in the process.
Less sodium, more potassium
Sodium promotes fluid retention and swelling. To ease pregnancy edema, avoid sodium-rich foods like salty snacks, processed lunch meats, canned foods, and fast food. To promote optimal fluid balance in your body, eat plenty of potassium-rich foods like avocado, legumes (beans and lentils), sweet potatoes, and bananas.
Choose comfortable footwear
Tight shoes and socks can restrict blood flow to your feet and exacerbate swelling. Choose comfortable footwear that’s roomy and supportive and well-fitting socks that don’t constrict your ankles. The difference between tight socks and compression stockings is akin to the difference between an uncomfortably restrictive hug and a gentle, fortifying one.
When is swelling during pregnancy a concern?
Sometimes, swelling during pregnancy can indicate a serious problem like preeclampsia or deep vein thrombosis (DVT). If you notice swelling in your hands, face, or around your eyes, or if your normal swelling seems worse than usual, call your prenatal care provider right away.
Call our DVT and leg health hotline at 833-687-6887 right away if you have sudden swelling anywhere, or if one leg is more swollen than the other.
If you’re worried about pregnancy-related swelling, we can help. Give us a call today, or use our online booking feature to schedule a visit at your nearest Vascular Vein Centers office any time. We have six locations in Orlando, Waterford Lakes of East Orlando, Kissimmee, Lake Mary, The Villages, and Davenport/Haines City, Florida.