How you can relieve the discomfort of swollen legs, feet and ankles that seems to come part and parcel with pregnancy.
One of the more uncomfortable symptoms of pregnancy, very few women go through the whole 9 months without experiencing swollen legs, ankles and feet to some extent. This is however completely normal and, unless the swelling is extreme, not something you should worry about.
Causes of swollen ankles & feet
Medically known as oedema, this swelling is largely caused by fluid retention as the body naturally holds onto more water during pregnancy to help your skin and joints expand to accommodate your growing baby. However, more specifically, swelling in the legs, ankles and feet is predominantly down to your expanding uterus putting pressure on your vena cava, the large vein that carries blood from your lower body back to your heart. This in turn causes blood to move through the vein more slowly so an increased amount remains in your lower extremities for longer and extra fluid transfers into your bodily tissue causing the swelling.
You may notice that swelling gets worse throughout the day as you spend time on your feet, warm weather can also cause swelling to worsen. Many women also report more pronounced swelling during the final trimester.
While swollen feet and ankles can be very frustrating especially if your shoes feel too tight, it will subside soon after you give birth and you may notice that you urinate more frequently for a couple of days as the excess fluid passes out of your system.
When should I be worried?
In general, suffering with swollen ankles and legs is part and parcel of pregnancy however if you develop swelling or puffiness around your eyes, severe swelling in your hands or sudden severe swelling of your feet and ankles it's important that you see medical attention right away as this could be indicative of preeclampsia.
How to reduce swelling
While there is little you can do to relieve swelling completely there are some remedies you can try to alleviate some of the discomfort....
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- Drink plenty of water - While this may sound counter intuitive drinking plenty of water will actually help to flush out your system and reduce fluid retention as when your body is hydrated it doesn't have such a need to hang onto extra water 'just in case'.
- Elevate your feet - Resting your feet up on a stool, box or pile of books when you sit down will help excess fluid drain from your feet and ankles.
- Don't cross your legs - Sitting with your legs crossed can make any fluid retention worse so try and remember to sit with your feet flat on the floor or crossed at the ankles instead.
- Avoid salty foods - Salty foods cause you to hang onto extra water so try and minimise them wherever possible. This includes salt-laden ready meals as well as 'typically' salty foods such as salted nuts and crisps.
- Exercise - Regular exercise, be it walking, swimming or something different, will help to boost your circulation stopping excess blood from pooling in your lower body.
- Stretch your legs - If you sit at a desk all day make sure you take regular breaks to walk around and stretch your legs, again giving your circulation a boost. Periodically pointing and flexing your toes and rotating your ankles will also help to keep blood and fluid moving.
- Lie on your left hand side - During the later stages of pregnancy, lying on your back puts additional pressure on the vena cava vein so, lying on your left hand side instead will help to give your blood free passage back to the heart preventing the pooling of blood and fluid.
- Wear support tights - While tight ankle socks can cut into your swollen legs and be hugely uncomfortable, waist high support tights can actually help to reduce uncomfortable swelling so if you're suffering they're definitely worth a try.