Swelling

It's normal for your body to produce and retain more fluid during pregnancy, particularly during the last few months. This can cause slight swelling (called edema), particularly in the legs, feet and ankles, but also in the hands and face. This swelling may be worse towards the end of the day or during hot summer months.

What causes swelling during pregnancy?

Extra fluid in your body helps prepare you for pregnancy and delivery. It allows your tissues to handle the growth of your baby. It also prepares your pelvic area for labor and delivery. Much of the weight you gain during pregnancy is from extra fluids. Your body usually gets rid of them in the days after delivery.

During late pregnancy, your growing uterus puts pressure on the veins to your legs and feet. This slows blood circulation and causes even more fluid to build up in your feet and ankles. Standing or sitting with your feet on the floor for long periods of time can increase the pressure on these veins.

How can you manage swelling during pregnancy?

Some swelling, particularly in the feet and ankles, is normal during pregnancy. But if your swelling is severe, contact your health provider. Here are some tips for relieving and managing swelling that is normal:

Relieve the pressure.

  • Put your feet up on a footstool or hassock, or lie on your side.
  • This will relieve the pressure on the veins of your lower body and reduce the swelling.
  • Take breaks during the day where you can sit with your feet up.
  • While you sleep, raise your legs slightly with pillows.
  • Don't cross your legs when you sit.
  • Avoid standing or sitting with your feet on the floor for long periods of time.

Stay cool.

  • Heat can make the swelling worse.
  • Stay cool and try not to get overheated.

Improve your circulation.

  • Lying on your left side can help improve your circulation and reduce swelling.
  • After long periods of sitting, take a short walk.
  • Avoid tight clothes or jewelry that cut off the circulation at your wrists or ankles.
  • Leg massages and supportive tights or stockings can also help improve circulation.

Eat healthy foods.

  • It's important to eat healthy foods and get the right amount of protein. Too little protein can cause your body to retain fluid.
  • Salt increases water retention so try to limit or avoid very salty foods.
  • Drink plenty of water; 8 – 10 eight-ounce glasses of fluids per day. As strange as it may sound, drinking water actually helps reduce swelling by keeping you hydrated and flushing sodium (salt) from your body.

Be careful of medication.

  • Some medications, even those purchased over-the-counter, can cause serious harm to you and your baby during pregnancy.
  • Do not take any medication (such as "water pills") to reduce swelling without first talking to your health care provider.

When should you talk to your health care provider about swelling?

Mild swelling of the legs, hands and face is normal during pregnancy. But call your health care provider if you have severe or sudden swelling, particularly in your hands or in your face around the eyes. This could be a sign of a serious condition called preeclampsia. This is a condition that can happen after the 20th week of pregnancy or right after pregnancy. It’s when a pregnant woman has high blood pressure and signs that some of her organs, like her kidneys and liver, may not be working properly. Some of these signs include having protein in the urine, changes in vision and severe headache.

    Also call your health care provider if one leg is much more swollen than the other, especially if you also have pain or tenderness in your calf or thigh.


    Last reviewed: September, 2009

    It's normal for your body to produce and retain more fluid during pregnancy, particularly during the last few months. This can cause slight swelling (called edema), particularly in the legs, feet and ankles, but also in the hands and face. This swelling may be worse towards the end of the day or during hot summer months.

    What causes swelling during pregnancy?

    Extra fluid in your body helps prepare you for pregnancy and delivery. It allows your tissues to handle the growth of your baby. It also prepares your pelvic area for labor and delivery. Much of the weight you gain during pregnancy is from extra fluids. Your body usually gets rid of them in the days after delivery.

    During late pregnancy, your growing uterus puts pressure on the veins to your legs and feet. This slows blood circulation and causes even more fluid to build up in your feet and ankles. Standing or sitting with your feet on the floor for long periods of time can increase the pressure on these veins.

    How can you manage swelling during pregnancy?

    Some swelling, particularly in the feet and ankles, is normal during pregnancy. But if your swelling is severe, contact your health provider. Here are some tips for relieving and managing swelling that is normal:

    Relieve the pressure.

    • Put your feet up on a footstool or hassock, or lie on your side.
    • This will relieve the pressure on the veins of your lower body and reduce the swelling.
    • Take breaks during the day where you can sit with your feet up.
    • While you sleep, raise your legs slightly with pillows.
    • Don't cross your legs when you sit.
    • Avoid standing or sitting with your feet on the floor for long periods of time.

    Stay cool.

    • Heat can make the swelling worse.
    • Stay cool and try not to get overheated.

    Improve your circulation.

    • Lying on your left side can help improve your circulation and reduce swelling.
    • After long periods of sitting, take a short walk.
    • Avoid tight clothes or jewelry that cut off the circulation at your wrists or ankles.
    • Leg massages and supportive tights or stockings can also help improve circulation.

    Eat healthy foods.

    • It's important to eat healthy foods and get the right amount of protein. Too little protein can cause your body to retain fluid.
    • Salt increases water retention so try to limit or avoid very salty foods.
    • Drink plenty of water; 8 – 10 eight-ounce glasses of fluids per day. As strange as it may sound, drinking water actually helps reduce swelling by keeping you hydrated and flushing sodium (salt) from your body.

    Be careful of medication.

    • Some medications, even those purchased over-the-counter, can cause serious harm to you and your baby during pregnancy.
    • Do not take any medication (such as "water pills") to reduce swelling without first talking to your health care provider.

    When should you talk to your health care provider about swelling?

    Mild swelling of the legs, hands and face is normal during pregnancy. But call your health care provider if you have severe or sudden swelling, particularly in your hands or in your face around the eyes. This could be a sign of a serious condition called preeclampsia. This is a condition that can happen after the 20th week of pregnancy or right after pregnancy. It’s when a pregnant woman has high blood pressure and signs that some of her organs, like her kidneys and liver, may not be working properly. Some of these signs include having protein in the urine, changes in vision and severe headache.

      Also call your health care provider if one leg is much more swollen than the other, especially if you also have pain or tenderness in your calf or thigh.


      Last reviewed: September, 2009