Edema, swelling in extremities, is a common occurrence in pregnancy especially in the heat of summer. Women report more swelling in pregnancy during the last trimester.
Two Things That Cause Normal Swelling in Pregnancy
- As pregnancy progresses, the weight of the uterus including a baby, placenta and fluid causes pelvic pressure that prevents effective return of blood from the lower extremities.
- Also, the hormones of pregnancy cause your veins to be more relaxed and they are unable to move blood against gravity back to the heart and kidneys as well as usual. Sitting with the legs dependent for long periods of time like many women do at their jobs is a reason pregnant women have swollen ankles at the end of the day. If after resting all night in a horizontal position, your swelling is resolved, you can be very reassured that it is completely normal. Typically, women have more swelling in the ankles at night and in their hands in the morning.
Some women experience swelling in pregnancy that is unrelieved by rest and position change. Again, when it is of gradual onset and remains in the legs or arms it is usually normal.
When you google “swelling in pregnancy” the word pre-eclampsia is commonly pops up. The definition of pre-eclampsia is an elevation of blood pressure in pregnancy that is associated with protein in the urine, a headache unrelieved with Tylenol, hydration and rest, visual disturbances, epigastric pain or other lab abnormalities. Swelling in pregnancy can potentially be a side effect of this condition but it is NOT the way pre-eclampsia is diagnosed.
What Can You do to Relieve Swelling in Pregnancy?
- Hydration is key. It seems counterintuitive but more water intakes reduces swelling edema. Water likes water and the more water circulating in your vessels the more the fluid in the tissue will return to your veins.
- Foods that are natural diuretics (foods that increase excretion of fluids through the kidneys) include asparagus, celery, artichokes, carrots, watermelon, cucumber, tomato, parsley, eggplant, cranberry juice, cabbage, apple cider vinegar, beets, ginger, brussel sprouts, and lemon.
- A high protein diet will help make little proteins circulate in your blood vessels and help draw fluid back into the veins so it can be removed by the kidneys..
- Garlic and parsley oil pills (they come together in one gelcapsule) can also help reduce edema. Take 3 pills by mouth at bedtime.
- Reducing your sugars can keep you from retaining water. Remember sugar is in all carbohydrate foods (rice, pasta, bread, grains, dessert) as well as fruits. And tropical fruits have a higher sugar content than other fruits. Beware of fruit juice as well, it is soda in sheep’s clothing.
- Supportive stockings can also help. They are often called TED hose. Put them on in the morning before you leave your bed to keep pressure on your legs to help promote return of blood through the veins.
- Immersion in water can decreases edema. Try 20 minutes daily in a deep bathtub or swimming pool
- Massage therapy can also return fluid to the general circulation to help excretion through the kidneys. Choose a good massage oil and you can massage your legs or have your partner do so at home.
The swelling caused by pregnancy will resolve after the birth but it can actually worsens initially postpartum. It can take up to 2 weeks to completely resolve.