While you may be enjoying the magical time that is pregnancy — it truly is miraculous how many restroom trips you can squeeze into one day — and eagerly anticipating the arrival of your sweet little bundle, there are some less than magical side effects that many mothers-to-be experience.
Your body is changing rapidly, which can get a little uncomfortable. One discomfort that many women experience is swollen feet.
Let's talk about why your feet may swell during pregnancy, when you might notice this happening, when you should see a doctor, and some simple treatments that can help — and most importantly, why you might get to go shoe shopping.
When can you expect your feet to start puffing? Well, the good news is that it’s usually later on. So you’ll likely recognize your feet for the first half or more of your pregnancy.
Rapidly increasing levels of the hormone progesterone (literally “pro gestation” or “pro pregnancy”) slow your digestion down. This can cause abdominal bloating long before you have a noticeable baby bump. You may notice a bit of puffiness in your hands, feet, or face, but not much.
If you notice a lot of swelling this early on, especially if accompanied by other symptoms such as dizziness, headaches, or bleeding, it's best to call your doctor.
The second trimester begins with week 13 of pregnancy (roughly the start of the fourth month). It's not unusual to start noticing swollen feet around the fifth month of pregnancy, especially if you're on your feet a lot or the weather is hot.
This swelling is due to the increasing volume of blood and fluids in your body. Your blood volume increases by about
While it may make your rings and shoes a little snug, all this extra fluid helps to soften your body and prepare it for giving birth — and that's exactly what you want. Rest assured, the extra fluid will rapidly decrease in the days and weeks after your baby is born.
Starting with week 28 of pregnancy, the third trimester is by far the most common time to experience swollen feet. Especially as the weeks go on and you get closer to 40 weeks, your toes are more likely to resemble little sausages than anything else (yes, motherhood is glamorous).
Your body is continuing to build its supply of blood and fluids, which can contribute to swelling. Your uterus is also getting much heavier as your baby grows, which can slow blood flow from the legs back to the heart. (Don't worry, this isn't dangerous — just uncomfortable.)
Other factors that can contribute to ballooning feet include:
- hot weather
- dietary imbalances
- caffeine intake
- not drinking enough water
- being on your feet for long periods of time
Swollen feet are a very normal part of pregnancy — many of your fellow moms-to-be can commiserate! So most of the time, swollen feet are just another sign of all the hard work your body is doing to grow that new little life.
However, swollen feet can sometimes be a sign of a more serious problem. One of these problems is called preeclampsia. This is a condition that can develop during pregnancy and causes dangerously high blood pressure.
Call your doctor if you notice:
- sudden swelling of your hands, feet, face, or around your eyes
- swelling that gets dramatically worse
- dizziness or blurred vision
- a severe headache
- difficulty breathing
If you notice swelling in just one leg that is also accompanied by pain, redness, or heat, this could mean you have a deep vein thrombosis, or DVT. A DVT is a blood clot, usually in your leg. It's important to call your doctor if you notice these symptoms, as pregnant women are more likely to get blood clots than the average person (thanks once again, hormones).
If you're unsure whether your swelling is normal, or have any concerns, it is always best to call your doctor or midwife. They're happy to help keep you and your baby safe and healthy!
While swollen feet may or may not be painful, they can certainly be uncomfortable or bothersome.
Fortunately, there are a number of simple ways to ease your symptoms during pregnancy. Even better? They may involve snacks, a cold drink, swimming, massage, and possibly shoe shopping. Doesn’t sound so bad, right?
1. Reduce sodium intake
One way to reduce swelling during pregnancy is to limit your sodium (or salt) intake. Salt makes your body hold on to extra water.
Try to avoid canned or processed foods, as these are especially high in sodium. Also try not to put extra table salt on your food.
Using savory herbs such as rosemary, thyme, and oregano is an easy way to add flavor to your recipes without using salt — yum!
2. Increase potassium intake
Not getting enough potassium can also make swelling worse, as potassium helps your body balance the amount of fluids it holds onto.
Your prenatal vitamin should have some extra potassium for you, but it's also important to eat good sources of dietary potassium.
Some foods that are naturally high in potassium include:
- potatoes with the skin on
- sweet potatoes (also with the skin)
- beans, some fruit juices (prune, pomegranate, orange, carrot, and passionfruit in particular)
3. Reduce caffeine intake
While occasional caffeine during pregnancy isn’t harmful (and hey, a girl’s gotta stay awake!), drinking too much caffeine isn’t considered great for baby. It can also make swelling worse.
Caffeine is a diuretic, which causes you to pee more, which then makes your body think it needs to hold on to fluid.
Try a decaf coffee with milk or an herbal tea such as peppermint to help give you a little energy boost instead.
4. Drink more water
As strange as it sounds to drink more water to counteract swelling, it actually works. If your body thinks you’re dehydrated, it will hold on to even more fluid to try to compensate.
So try to drink at least 10 glasses of water every day to keep your kidneys flushing out the bad stuff and your body happily hydrated.
If it feels daunting to drink that much water, try getting a cute cup that you’ll want to keep refilling, or a giant water bottle that you’ll only have to refill a couple times a day. You can also flavor your water with lemon, mint, or berries to make it more enjoyable.
5. Elevate your feet and rest
Even though you have a million things you want to get done before the baby arrives, try to sit and put your feet up when possible.
While sitting all the time isn’t great for your circulation, standing all the time is also hard on your beautiful pregnant body.
Sitting with your feet elevated for a little while — especially at the end of the day — can help drain the fluid that's been pooling in your legs over the course of the day.
6. Wear loose, comfortable clothing
Wearing tight clothing, especially around your wrists, waist, and ankles, can make swelling worse. Basically, it keeps blood from circulating as easily.
Try to wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothes — or at least avoid tight elastic bands. Maternity maxi dresses in the summer and flowy cardigans or sweaters with joggers in the winter can be both cute and comfortable.
7. Stay cool
Especially if you're pregnant during the hot summer months, staying indoors during the heat of the day and avoiding vigorous exercise can help keep you cool and reduce swelling.
You can also wear cool clothing, put cold compresses on your feet, or keep a fan nearby.
8. Wear waist-high compression stockings
Yes, these are just about as sexy as they sound. But if you're experiencing persistently swollen feet, or have to be on your feet most of the time, you can wear waist-high compression stockings.
These stockings gently squeeze your feet and legs to help keep fluid circulating. Try to avoid the knee-high compression stockings, as they may be too tight in the middle of your leg and actually make swelling worse.
Going for even a 5- or 10-minute walk a couple times a day can help improve your circulation, which helps reduce swelling.
This can also be a good break in your day, and it's a great way to get pregnancy-safe exercise.
10. Wear comfortable shoes
While you may look adorable in your high heels, late pregnancy is a good time to give them a break. Wearing comfortable (even orthotic), well-fitting shoes is key to reducing foot swelling, as well as to preventing hip and back problems that can arise as your center of gravity shifts and your weight increases.
In addition to swelling, the ligaments in your body (including your feet) actually do stretch during pregnancy, so your feet may change size. Some women’s feet return to their pre-pregnancy size, but many women find that their feet are permanently a half-size or so larger.
It may be annoying that one more thing is changing, or that some of your beloved shoes no longer fit, but this is an excellent excuse to go splurge on some new favorites.
There are no studies proving that water pressure reduces swelling during pregnancy, but many women do find relief from swelling when they spend time in the pool.
Try standing or swimming in a pool where the water depth is almost up to your neck. At the very least, you will feel lighter, cooler, and get a little exercise. You may also find that your feet and legs are less swollen.
12. Get a massage
Your partner may be looking for ways to be involved during the pregnancy process, and this is the perfect opportunity.
Massage helps circulate the fluids that tend to accumulate in your feet, which will in turn reduce swelling.
If you're nowhere near your due date, to be safe you'll want to have your partner avoid firm pressure on some acupressure points that are associated with uterine contractions.
And if you're rocking this pregnancy solo or your partner isn’t the touchy-feely type, many massage studios offer specialized prenatal massages. These can not only help with swelling, but are great for helping relieve some of the stress that can accompany pregnancy.
13. Sleep on your left side
Sleeping on your left side when possible can improve blood flow, which reduces swelling of the feet. Lying on your left side takes the pressure of your uterus off of the inferior vena cava, which is the large blood vessel that returns blood to your heart.
Swollen feet are a very common side effect of pregnancy. Swelling is caused by increased fluid volume in your body, as well as decreased circulation.
If you experience sudden or severe swelling, it's important to call your doctor, as this may be a sign of something more serious. But a little swelling is definitely normal.
You can help prevent foot swelling by getting regular gentle exercise, drinking plenty of water, resting, and eating a balanced diet.
Before you know it, your shoes will fit again and the only feet you’ll be focusing on will be those tiny baby toes!