Are you wearing your wedding ring on a chain around your neck because your fingers are too swollen? Have you bought a bigger size slip-on shoe because your feet are muffin-topping over the sides by midafternoon?
Welcome to the third trimester of pregnancy.
Many women experience swelling, also known as edema, during late pregnancy. Thankfully, all this fluid retention is for a good cause. Your blood volume and body fluids increase by 50 percent during pregnancy to soften the body and provide for the needs of your baby-to-be. The extra fluid also helps it stretch to accommodate the growth of your baby and open your pelvic joints for delivery.
Swelling isn’t usually painful, but it can be annoying. So what can you do about it? Here are five natural ways to find some relief.
1. Sleep on Your Left
You’ve probably been told to sleep on your left side during pregnancy, right? This helps keep pressure off the inferior vena cava, the large vein that carries deoxygenated blood from the lower half of your body to the right atrium of the heart.
Lying on the back puts pressure on the vena cava. Sleeping on the left side keeps the weight of the baby off of the liver and the vena cava.
It’s not dangerous if you occasionally end up sleeping on your right side, but try to sleep on the left whenever possible.
It may sound counterintuitive, but drinking a lot of water can help reduce fluid retention by flushing out your system.
Some women also find it helpful to swim or stand in water. The water pressure outside your body might help compress the tissue inside your body. This can help flush out the trapped fluids. Swimming is fabulous exercise during pregnancy, too.
3. Dress Smart
Support pantyhose or compression stockings can help keep your feet and ankles from ballooning. Make sure to put them on in the morning before your feet swell.
Don’t wear anything that’s constricting at the ankle or wrist. Some socks that don’t feel tight in the morning create a deep welt by the end of the day.
Comfortable shoes help, too.
4. Eat Well
Potassium deficiency can cause swelling, so add bananas to your grocery list. Excessive salt intake can also lead to swelling, so go easy on the sodium.
Eat a balanced diet high in lean protein and vitamin-rich fruits and vegetables, and low in processed foods. For gentle diuretics, try these foods:
Caffeine can cause fluid retention, even though you always seem to pee right after you drink coffee. But you’re probably already limiting your caffeine intake for other reasons.
5. Go New Age
Chilled cabbage leaves can help draw out excess fluid and reduce swelling. Dandelion tea can help the body metabolize fluids. You can also make a tea out of coriander or fennel. Check with your doctor before drinking herbal tea to make sure it’s pregnancy-safe.
Massaging your feet with mustard oil or flaxseed oil might effectively relieve swelling.
When to See Your Doctor
Edema is usually harmless, but if the swelling comes on very suddenly and strongly, it can be a sign of preeclampsia. This is a serious condition. If you experience preeclampsia, swelling in the hands, feet, or face would likely be accompanied by a spike in blood pressure.
Other symptoms of preeclampsia include:
- abdominal and or shoulder pain
- lower back pain
- sudden weight gain
- changes in vision
- shortness of breath, anxiety
If the swelling is only in one leg, and the calf is red, tender, and lumpy, you might have a blood clot. In either case, call your doctor right away.
Carpal tunnel syndrome can also be a problem when excessive fluid compresses the median nerve in your arm. This nerve brings sensation to your middle, index fingers, and thumb. Get this checked out if you have pain, numbness, or tingling in addition to the swelling in your hands. Let your doctor know if your hands are suddenly weak or clumsy.
Don’t be surprised if the swelling temporarily gets worse after you give birth. Your body is racing to get rid of all that extra fluid. You might be uncomfortable now, but within a few days of delivery, pregnancy-related edema will be a distant memory.