When navigating the various changes during pregnancy, it’s crucial to understand how to deal with pregnancy swelling, more formally known as pregnancy edema. This common condition can affect more than just your tummy, and its severity can vary.
You probably already know that pregnancy causes your abdomen to grow, but you might not be aware that other body regions can undergo similar changes and potentially enlarge. During pregnancy, your body makes 50% more blood volume and other body fluids that help the baby grow and develop.
Edema, which is what this swelling is medically called, is a typical side effect of pregnancy, especially in the third trimester. Read on for details on what could be causing your swelling, how to reduce it, and when medical attention is warranted.
Why Do I Get Pregnancy Swelling?
During pregnancy, increased hormone levels lead to water retention, which can make you feel uncomfortable due to swelling and bloating. You’re experiencing this discomfort for a good reason; your baby needs the extra fluid in your body to survive.
Even in healthy women with straightforward pregnancies, swelling can occur. It typically becomes worse throughout the day and is at its worst by bedtime. Physical exertion, extreme fatigue, prolonged standing or walking (gravity causes fluid to pool in the feet), consuming salty foods (excess sodium causes you to retain fluids), and consuming caffeinated beverages (caffeine is dehydrating) are common precipitating factors.
Where Exactly Am I Going to Get Big?
Are you pregnant and curious about the possible locations of edema? While traveling for nine months, you may experience growth in the following areas of your body.
Limbs, feet, and ankles
The lower extremities, especially the feet, and ankles, tend to swell the most during pregnancy. Particularly, edema develops as the growing uterus pulls on the vena cava, a major vein on the right side of your body, reducing blood flow. As a result, fluid from the veins collects in your legs and seeps into the surrounding skin tissues. As a result of the tiny size of the blood vessels in the foot and ankle, the body has a hard time dealing with the influx of fluid.
Facial swelling is only one example of how pregnancy can affect other parts of the body. Particularly, edema develops as the growing uterus pulls on the vena cava, a major vein on the right side of your body, reducing blood flow. This could cause nasal congestion or even a nosebleed. Pregnancy-related water retention and increased blood volume can also have an impact on your gums, lips, and eyes.
Fingers and hands
Hand and finger swelling is a common pregnancy symptom. Other common symptoms include pain, heaviness, tingling, and the sensation that one’s hands are about to fall asleep. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a painful condition caused by pressure on the median nerve in the wrist. This causes the fingers to feel tingly and numb.
The transition to breastfeeding can begin as early as the second trimester of pregnancy, when some women notice changes in breast size and shape. According to Dr. Ross, this is due to the pregnancy hormones that can cause a woman’s breasts to swell to three times their normal size. There is also a notable enlargement of the areola, nipples, and Montgomery glands.
Yes, engorgement is frequent in the vulva and vaginal region, especially in the later stages of pregnancy. In summary, more blood than usual will flow through any veins in your body while you’re expecting. The uterus presses on the pelvic veins, which can lead to swelling in the affected tissues, including the vagina.
Pregnancy Swelling: Natural Remedies
Jane Anderson, a podiatrist at Durham, North Carolina’s Foot and Ankle Center, has these suggestions for reducing pregnancy swelling:
- Take frequent breaks to elevate your feet. Lifting your legs 6–12 inches off the ground and holding that position for 15–20 minutes has been shown to increase blood flow to the heart and lungs.
- Turn over onto your side rather than your back. The vena cava, the body’s largest vein, is relieved of its burden. If the pressure is too high, blood flow back up from the legs is slowed.
- Take in lots of liquids. Swelling is made worse by dehydration. Drinking water helps flush out excess salt and keeps the kidneys from registering that you are chronically dehydrated.
- Reduce your coffee intake. Caffeine induces dehydration, but it also increases urination, which helps get rid of extra fluids.
- Restrict your intake of salt. Sodium is important, but it should be consumed in moderation.
- Be mindful of your weight. Pregnant women of average weight should gain between 25 and 35 pounds. Gaining too much weight during pregnancy is associated with an increase in edema and other complications.
- By rotating your ankles, you can increase blood flow to the area. Experiment by raising one leg while seated. Turn your foot 10 times to the right, then 10 times to the left. Change legs and do ten repetitions.
- Put some ice on your feet. You should elevate your feet and put ice on the inside of your ankles for 15 to 20 minutes every half hour to hour.
- Compression stockings can be helpful if swelling in your ankles makes walking painful or difficult. Your obstetrician can determine the appropriate degree of compression for you.
- Avoid excessive leg crossing. Avoid tight clothing and sitting with your legs crossed during pregnancy’s last few weeks.
When Pregnancy Swelling Should Be a Concern
Pregnancy-related swelling (edema) isn’t necessarily a cause for alarm. Dr. Phillips adds that water retention and swelling are not expected to cause permanent alterations to your body. However, swelling may sometimes be a sign of something more serious. Preeclampsia symptoms include but are not limited to, abrupt or increasing swelling in the legs, hands, feet, or face and symptoms like blurred vision.
Seek emergency medical assistance if any of the following symptoms develop:
- The fast growth of abnormal tissue or organ.
- Swelling of the face and hands to an alarming degree.
- Difficulties focusing or seeing “floaters” in the eyes.
- I can’t catch my breath.
- Irresistible or persistent head pain.
- An increase in weight of more than one pound every day.
These symptoms may indicate preeclampsia, a potentially dangerous pregnancy condition characterized by high blood pressure and protein in the urine.
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