Swollen Cankles and Other Indignities of Pregnancy Caused by Your New Friend, Edema

by Scary Mommy
Originally Published: 
women's legs in ocean

Edema, or swelling, during pregnancy is often a normal symptom that many women experience. For some, swelling can be a mild inconvenience, but it can also be not mild, especially if you can’t shove your shoes or rings on anymore, and it’s forcing you to don flip flops to work and you don’t dare put your rings on because they will probably have to be cut off by the end of the day. However, in some cases, swelling can indicate a serious problem that needs prompt medical attention. Here’s what’s normal, and what might be cause for concern.

What causes swelling, or edema?

Thanks to the extra needs of your uterus resident and your upcoming starring role in the delivery room, you have a lot more fluids on board than you normally do. According to the American Pregnancy Association (APA), you produce around 50 percent more blood and other fluids during pregnancy. That’s pretty nifty, but as your pregnancy progresses, it can cause fluid retention, which can show up in your hands, face, ankles, feet, and legs.

This doesn’t happen just for the hell of it — the extra fluids can help prepare your pelvic joints and tissues for childbirth and can help your body, well, expand, which is part of the whole pregnancy process anyway.

This type of swelling is called physiological edema, and your growing baby and uterus can also reduce blood flow from your legs to your heart (thanks, kiddo). Also, swelling tends to get worse as your pregnancy progresses.

What does edema feel like?

Swelling isn’t always painful, especially if it’s mild, but it can be unpleasant. All that extra fluid is stretching your skin and making parts of your body bigger than they really should be. It can be uncomfortable when you wear socks, for example, or if you’re on your feet a lot. It can also make your range of motion a little less great, just because that extra fluid is often located around joints, such as your fingers or ankles.

Also, swelling can be worse in warm weather, which is great fun when you’re hot and already feeling like garbage.

What can you do for swelling during pregnancy?

There are a few strategies that can help prevent edema, or at least make it a little easier to deal with. According to the APA, stay indoors if possible when it’s hot, avoid standing for long periods, and keep your feet up as much as possible while you’re sitting. Comfortable, practical shoes are a must, and don’t wear clothing that’s too tight, particularly in the ankles (although you probably won’t want to do that anyway).

Also, you can pound water like there’s no tomorrow (even though that’s going to make you pee way more) because that can help you reduce your swelling. Remember, too, that while salty foods can be tasty, try to consume less sodium because that can make you swell even more.

Edema warning signs you must watch out for.

Most swelling and puffiness during pregnancy is normal (although it’s not fun at all). However, a pregnancy-related condition called preeclampsia can also present with swelling and can be serious and even life-threatening.

If you have a sudden and severe increase in swelling of your hands and face, it’s crucial to contact your healthcare provider ASAP. It’s even more important if this is accompanied by headaches, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, difficulty breathing, or abdominal pain.

Your doctor will monitor you at your monthly or weekly visits for hints that preeclampsia might be on the horizon by checking your urine for protein and looking at your blood pressure, and if you have proteinuria or elevated blood pressure, they will tell you the signs to look for that you might be experiencing a more severe problem.

However, in any case, if you’re worried or uneasy about how you’re looking or feeling, call your provider — that’s what they’re there for.

Written by Monica Beyer.

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