I live in Southern California, where it gets ridiculously hot during the summer months. And my first daughter was born in August, the hottest month of the year around these parts. So I was at my MOST pregnant when it was the MOST hot. It was the perfect storm for swelling, and I basically looked like the Michelin man for the last 6 weeks of my pregnancy. My doc assured me everything was fine, and minus a scare a few days before my girl was born, it was! Swelling during pregnancy, while annoying as hell, it totally normal. But, some swelling can be a sign of a much more serious problem. So when should you worry? Where is the line between normal swelling and CALL YOUR DOCTOR swelling?
Swelling during pregnancy was my least favorite thing about being pregnant. I felt (and looked) like a slightly less purple Violet Beauregarde.
But, even though I was certainly annoyed by my sausage fingers and tree-trunk calves and ankles, most of the swelling I experienced was well-within the parameters of what is considered normal. Pregnancy takes a huge toll on your body, and with all of the extra fluid you’re carrying around and increased blood flow, things are going to puff up.
So what is considered “normal” swelling during pregnancy?
Swelling, or edema, is caused by excess fluid that collects in your body’s tissues. When you’re pregnant, you retain more water, and that fluid has to go somewhere. Also, just think about what you’re actually carrying around! Toward the end of a normal pregnancy, most women are carrying an extra 7-12 pounds of baby alone. That doesn’t even factor in the extra fluid, your amniotic fluid, and any weight gain. All the extra weight is in your uterus, and as it grows, it puts pressure on your pelvic veins and vena cava (that’s the large vein along the right side of your body that carries blood from your legs back to your heart).
The pressure on those veins can cause blood flow to slow, and force fluid into the tissues in your legs and feet. Which is why some pregnant women can’t wear anything besides flip-flops (it me).
Swelling tends to be at its worst in your final trimester, as your uterus expands rapidly. It’s also worse after you’ve been on your feet all day, or when it’s hot out. And there are some things you can do to help! Putting your feet up as much as possible, not crossing your legs or feet when you’re sitting down, and wearing comfortable shoes that won’t restrict blood flow or interfere with swelling when it happens help. Limiting your salt intake and drinking plenty of water can also help with swelling during pregnancy. It sounds weird that drinking MORE fluids will help keep your swelling down, but for some reason, upping your fluid intake helps you retain less fluid. Science!
Also, light exercise and plenty of walking can do wonders for swelling during pregnancy. I know for me, getting my hugely pregnant self in a swimming pool as often as possible was incredibly helpful in reducing my swelling. Plus it was like 263 degrees outside and it felt lovely to not be sweating from every pore of my entire body.
So don’t be alarmed if your legs, feet, and hands start to resemble Play-Doh creations. But there is some swelling that may be cause for concern, and at the very least, warrants a call to your doc or midwife.
If you notice sudden, severe swelling in your feet or legs, more than moderate swelling in your hands, swelling in your face, or puffiness around your eyes, don’t write it off as normal: call your doctor. These can all be signs of a very serious condition called preeclampsia. If you’re not sure what constitutes “sudden” or “moderate”, call your doctor. Better safe than sorry. Also, if you notice that one of your legs is significantly more swollen than the other, or you have pain and tenderness to the touch in one of your legs, call your doctor, as these could be signs of a blood clot.
Pregnancy is a blessing and a joy, and it also really sucks sometimes! It’s especially hard when it’s your first time around, and you’re just not sure what to expect. But hopefully, knowing what is normal and what may not be will make it a little bit easier. Now go put your feet up, you’ve certainly earned it.