Edema/swelling in Pregnancy
Well past the halfway point of pregnancy most expectant mothers look down at their feet and ankles and gasp at the sight of no ankle
bones! If a pregnancy has had to endure the summer months, this revelation may appear sooner than the halfway mark. Adding insult to
injury, it is usually with this discovery that you come to the realization that you need to move up a shoe size to relieve the discomfort of the
swelling known as edema.
Edema results as a by product of the extra blood your body has acquired during your pregnancy. The growing uterus puts pressure on the
pelvic veins and the vena cava (a large vein on the right side of the body that receives blood from the lower limbs). Circulation slows down
and causes the blood to pool. Pressure is caused from trapped blood forcing water down into the tissues of the feet and ankles. The water is
fluid that would normally be in the body, it has simply become displaced. In addition to this fluid displacement, at times pregnant women
also retain excess water, which will add to the swelling.
The description of how edema occurs sounds scary but it is quite common and normal during pregnancy so do not be alarmed. (Many
older resources scare women to think that all swelling is due to a condition called pre-eclampsia – NOT true! More women have swelling
than will ever have pre-eclampsia.)
Here are some tried and true strategies to control edema:
Elevate your feet whenever possible. Swelling in the legs is often called “gravity edema,” it will decrease when the legs and feet
are elevated. At work, elevate your feet under your desk on a stool or stack of books, and at home, try to lie on your left side
whenever possible. Do not cross your legs.
Take regular breaks from sitting or standing. A short walk every so often will help keep your blood circulating.
Wear support pantyhose. The best way to prevent edema on a daily basis is to put the support hose on before getting out of bed in
the morning so that the blood doesn’t have the chance to cause the fluid to pool around the ankles. Yes, it sounds impossible
Women’s Health Associates, PC
getting a pregnant body into support hose while still in bed, but it can be done and it will be worth the effort. What a great
way to start the day with a good laugh at yourself!
Avoid socks or stockings that have tight bands around the ankles or calves.
Wear comfortable shoes that fit properly; use arch supports to help with foot pain.
Drink plenty of water, not just fluids, W-A-T-E-R. It sounds like an oxymoron, but the more water you drink, the less fluid your
body will retain. Go figure!
Exercise regularly. Walking, swimming or riding an exercise bike will give the most benefit. Do not over do it, just enough to get
relief. Water aerobics is particularly good.
Eat a well balanced, nutritious diet and avoid extra sodium and very salty foods like olives and salted nuts. Avoid caffeine – a natu-
ral diuretic, it will make you excrete all that good water you put in!
So if it is the middle of hot weather and you feel like one of those big balloons in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, take it in stride.
Sit down, kick off those tight shoes, put your feet up and relax with a BIG glass of water! (Note that it takes approximately 2 weeks after
delivery for the edema to resolve.)
Women’s Health Associates, P.C. | 3020 Hamaker Court, Suite B-105, Fairfax, Virginia 22031
(703) 280-9420 | (703) 280-2747 (FAX)