Swelling in Pregnancy—When to Worry and When Is It Normal?

Swelling in pregnancy, or edema, is normal, but when should you start to worry? First-time pregnant individuals find it hard to distinguish normal swelling from medically serious swelling, but that doesn’t mean those who have been pregnant before have mastered it. Either way, swelling is uncomfortable and the inconveniences of swelling can affect a pregnant individual’s well-being, whether at work or at home.

The swelling occurs in the feet, legs and fingers. Usually, it becomes significant towards the end of the day, but goes away by the next morning. Although normal, it can be uncomfortable, and for pregnant individuals who experience it, this may cause alarm.

This article will help you understand swelling in pregnancy, when it’s normal, when to worry, causes, treatments and risks.

What Causes Swelling in Pregnancy?

The body goes through gradual changes the moment you get pregnant. Around the second trimester onwards, swelling may occur. It is a normal thing that happens while your body supports your baby’s nutritional needs. As this is taking place, the blood flow decreases and fluid accumulates in the tissues.

According to Dr. Folch-Hayek, OBGYN at Family Health Centers of San Diego: “The gravid uterus is putting pressure on the inferior vena cava, which decreases the blood flow back to the heart. Swelling develops usually later in the second and third trimester because the uterus is bigger as you progress in the pregnancy.”

Aside from these changes and processes, there are other factors that result in swelling, including:

  • Sitting or standing for long periods
  • Diet
  • Lack of water intake

The lack of activity during pregnancy may or may not be a factor for swelling. However, even active pregnant people still experience swelling because the vein congestion still happens in the uterine area. Dr. Folch-Hayek noted, “It’s more to do probably with activity level or lack of activity such as prolonged standing or sitting without changing your position.”

How to Reduce Swelling During Pregnancy

Swelling during pregnancy is normal and it cannot be avoided. Many pregnant individuals experience this issue any time during pregnancy until after delivery. Dr. Folch-Hayek OBGYN recommends a few ways on how to reduce swelling during pregnancy. Here are a few:

Elevate your feet

Leg swelling in pregnancy can be uncomfortable, especially if your job requires you to sit or stand for long periods. To reduce the swelling, elevate your feet higher than your waist while sitting. At night, you can put a pillow under your thighs and legs while lying on the bed.

For those who spend a lot of time standing, short walks can help.

Wear compression stockings

If prolonged standing can’t be avoided, Dr. Folch-Hayek suggests wearing compression stockings. She noted, “They can buy compression stockings in pharmacies. Sometimes, I direct them to stores that specialize in nursing uniforms where they can find a few pairs in multiple colors, in case they want to have fun with it, as well.”

Compression stockings can reduce the swelling as they gently squeeze the area. As they ease the swelling, they also lessen the discomfort or pain, if any.

Ditch the extra salt

“Anything that is salty will cause water retention, and as a result will make pregnant individuals more prone to swelling,” reminds Dr. Folch-Hayek. As a rule of thumb, avoid the extra salt in your diet when you’re pregnant.

Stay hydrated

It does seem counter intuitive to drink more water to prevent fluid retention, but you do need to stay hydrated to minimize the swelling during pregnancy. That is because the fluid helps you flush out the retained water, therefore reducing the swelling.

Gentle massages

Massages feel great at the end of a long day, but when you suffer from swelling during pregnancy, massages any time of the day would be beneficial. You can ask your partner to apply gentle pressure on the swollen areas. This will help with circulation.

Swelling in Pregnancy—When to Worry?

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