During pregnancy many women experience swollen feet. Swelling is common at this time because extra fluid is retained in the body to protect and support the growing fetus.
Swelling of the feet usually occurs later during pregnancy, when the weight of the uterus and fetus places extra pressure on the feet and legs. This pressure can lower the circulation and increase the accumulation of fluid which causes swelling.
Here, we look at the steps women can take to reduce swelling in their home. We also discuss symptoms that might indicate more severe conditions and explain when to see a physician.
In certain parts of the body swelling is a normal part of pregnancy. It often happens because the body produces extra fluid to help fetus development. Circulation also slows down, which could lead to fluid buildup.
The feet and ankles will swell, because with the growing fetus the uterus expands, putting more strain on the lower body’s veins.
In later stages of pregnancy, or the third trimester, swelling in the feet is more common. This is because the fetus is larger and puts more pressure on the legs and the feet.
Commonly swelling in women who experience swollen feet during pregnancy is:
- appears gradually
- is worse in hot weather
- appears worse by the end of the day
- lessens when they lie down or raise the feet
- is equal in both feet
During pregnancy, women may be able to reduce swelling of the feet by taking the following steps at home:
- avoiding standing for long periods, as this can increase pressure in the legs and feet and cause more swelling
- elevating the feet slightly to increase blood flow toward the heart
- raising the legs on pillows while sleeping
- wearing supportive tights or compression stockings to help improve circulation in the legs
- keeping active throughout the day, with short walks or gentle exercise
- limiting salt intake
- staying hydrated and drinking 8–10 glasses of fluid each day to help prevent the body from holding onto excess water
- avoiding caffeine, as it is a diuretic, which means that it promotes the increased production of urine
- wearing loose, comfortable clothing
- wearing loose socks and comfortable shoes
- avoiding sitting for long periods
- staying cool and spending limited time outdoors in hot weather
- sleeping on the left side of the body, which can help increase blood flow to the heart
- trying massage or reflexology to improve circulation
Exercising foot while resting can help to improve circulation.
Before doing the movement with the opposite foot, pregnant women will try to lift one foot off the floor and move it up and down 30 times.
They can then lift one foot off the floor and rotate it eight times in the clockwise direction and then eight times in the anticlockwise direction. They will try this again with the opposite foot.
Swollen feet are a common effect of pregnancy though they may be painful. Medical treatment is unlikely to be required and many women with home remedies will alleviate the swelling.
However, if an underlying condition causes the swollen feet a woman may require medical attention.
Swelling can sometimes signify a health problem during pregnancy. Women should immediately contact their midwife, doctor, or health-care team if they experience any sudden or rapid swelling increase.
A sudden swelling of the feet may be a symptom of preeclampsia. Woman may also experience a swollen or puffy face, swelling around the eyes or sudden swelling in the hands.
If the swelling in the feet is severe, pressing down into the skin may leave a few seconds of indentation. Some discoloration may also occur in the legs.
Preeclampsia is a disease of health, which can occur during pregnancy or postpartum. Preeclampsia leaves the pregnant women with very high blood pressure and organ issues.
This happens most often after 20 weeks of gestation, or up to 6 weeks after birth. Preeclampsia can progress quickly, and it can be very dangerous for the woman and the fetus without treatment.
To lower the blood pressure, a doctor can prescribe antihypertensive drugs. If the pregnancy has reached 37 weeks or more, healthcare professionals can advise early delivery of the fetus.
Deep vein thrombosis
A blood clot, known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT), can suggest irregular swelling of the feet or legs.
Pregnant women and women who have given birth within the last 3 months have a greater risk of DVT than non-pregnant women. The explanation for this is that during pregnancy, blood clots more quickly to avoid excess blood loss during labor and birth.
The rising fetus often puts pressure on the legs, reducing circulation. During both pregnancy and post delivery recovery period being less mobile than normal can also reduce blood flow in the legs.
A doctor may prescribe a drug called low-molecular-weight heparin to prevent or treat blood clots and DVT. They will inject the drug under the skin.
When to see a doctor
If women have any concerns about swollen feet during pregnancy or are unable to reduce unpleasant symptoms, they should address treatment options with their health care provider.
If they encounter any of the following symptoms they should call their doctor or midwife immediately:
- a sudden increase in swelling in the feet
- sudden swelling in the hands or face or around the eyes
- a severe headache or a constant dull headache
- blurred vision or seeing “stars” or flashing lights
- severe pain below the ribs or in the abdomen, especially on the right side
- nausea, vomiting, or feeling unwell
- swelling is present at the beginning of the day and does not improve when lying down or raising the feet
The above symptoms can all be signs of preeclampsia, and women who are pregnant may need immediate medical attention to avoid worsening of the disease.
Women should also contact their doctor straight away if they notice that:
- one foot or leg is more swollen than the other
- there is pain or heat in the calf or elsewhere in the leg
- the skin on the leg is red or discolored
DVT could be demonstrated by irregular swelling or pain in the hip. DVT can lead to blood clot moving to the lungs and causing a pulmonary embolism without treatment. It is important to seek medical attention straight away for:
- difficulty breathing
- chest pain, which worsens when coughing or breathing deeply
- coughing up blood
- increased or irregular heartbeat
Swelling of the feet is usually a common characteristic of later pregnancy stages and is not a cause of concern. During pregnancy the body absorbs the excess water. Additionally, fetal pressure will decrease circulation in the legs, which causes swelling in the feet.
Home remedies for swollen feet during pregnancy include elevating the feet and wearing loose, comfortable shoes while sitting down. Drinking plenty of water, doing regular gentle exercise, and avoiding standing up for long periods of time can all help.
When pregnant women experience a sudden increase in swelling of the feet, hands, or ears, or around the eyes, they should immediately contact a doctor.
Sudden swelling can be a sign of preeclampsia which requires medical attention. Also, pregnant women should contact their doctor immediately if they have irregular swelling, discomfort, redness, or warmth in one leg, since these symptoms may suggest DVT.