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Why do I have swollen ankles and feet during pregnancy?
The swelling, or edema, is from excess fluid that collects in your body tissues. It's normal to have a certain amount of swelling during pregnancy, particularly in your ankles and feet, because you're retaining more water. Changes in your blood chemistry also move fluid into your tissue.
Also, your growing uterus puts pressure on your pelvic veins and your vena cava (the large vein on the right side of the body that carries blood from your lower limbs back to the heart). The pressure slows the return of blood from your legs, causing it to pool and force fluid from your veins into the tissues of your feet and ankles.
That's why you're most likely to develop edema during the third trimester. It may be especially severe for women with excessive amniotic fluid or those carrying multiples. Edema also tends to be worse at the end of the day and during the summer.
After you deliver your baby, the swelling will disappear pretty quickly as your body gets rid of the extra fluid. You may find yourself peeing often and sweating a lot in the first days after childbirth.
When should I be concerned about swelling during pregnancy?
It's normal to have a moderate amount of edema in the ankles and feet during pregnancy, and you may also have mild swelling in your hands. But call your healthcare provider if you notice any of these signs of preeclampsia:
- Facial swelling
- Puffiness around your eyes
- More than moderate swelling of your hands
- Excessive or sudden swelling of your feet or ankles
Call your provider right away if one leg is significantly more swollen than the other, especially if you have pain or tenderness in your calf or thigh, because this could signal a blood clot.
What can I do to reduce swelling during pregnancy?
You can reduce swelling during pregnancy by lying on your side to relieve the increased pressure on your veins. Here are some other tips to reduce swelling:
- Put your feet up whenever possible. At work, keep a stool or pile of books under your desk.
- Don't cross your legs or ankles while sitting.
- Stretch your legs frequently while sitting: Stretch out your leg, heel first, and gently flex your foot to stretch your calf muscles. Rotate your ankles and wiggle your toes.
- Take regular breaks from sitting or standing. Frequent short walks will keep your blood from pooling in your lower extremities.
- Wear comfortable shoes that stretch to accommodate swelling in your feet.
- Don't wear socks or stockings that have tight bands around the ankles or calves.
- Wear waist-high maternity support stockings. Put them on before you get out of bed in the morning so blood doesn't have a chance to pool around your ankles.
- Drink plenty of water. Surprisingly, this helps your body retain less fluid. Try to have about 10 8-ounce cups of water or other hydrating beverages each day. (You can tell you're getting enough if your urine looks pale yellow or clear.)
- Exercise regularly. Activities like walking, swimming, or riding an exercise bike are good options. Or try a water aerobics class – being immersed in water may reduce swelling temporarily, particularly if you're in the water up to your shoulders.
- Eat a healthy diet and limit junk food.
Try not to let the swelling get you down. The sight of your swollen ankles may add to your feeling of ungainliness, but edema is a temporary condition that will pass soon after you give birth.