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Your pregnant body

  • Your body goes through major changes during pregnancy.
  • Hair, skin and breast changes are common.
  • Keep track of your weight gain during pregnancy.
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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.

Causes of 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.

What you can do

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 to talk to your health care provider

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.

September 2009

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you know you're pregnant?

Knowing the signs of pregnancy can help you tell if you’re pregnant. Here are some signs that you might be pregnant:

If you have any of these pregnancy signs and think you may be pregnant, go to your health care provider. The sooner you know you're pregnant, the sooner you can begin prenatal checkups and start taking good care of yourself and your growing baby.

Is my baby moving enough?

You'll start feeling your baby's kicks at around the 28th week of pregnancy. By this time, your baby's movements are usually well established and some health care providers recommend keeping track of these movements.

  • Track kick counts at about the same time each day when your baby is active.
  • Track kick counts shortly after you've eaten a meal (when your baby may be most active).
  • Sit or lay on your side, place your hands on your belly and monitor baby's movement.
  • Mark every movement down on a piece of paper. Don't count baby's hiccups.

Keep counting until you've felt 10 movements from baby. If baby doesn't move 10 times within 1 hour, try again later that day. Call your health provider if your baby's movement seems unusual or you've tried more than once that day and can't feel baby move 10 times or more during 1 hour.

When will I start feeling my baby move?

Popcorn popping. A little fish swimming. Bubbles. Butterflies. Tickles. These are common words used by women to describe their baby's first movements. Also known as "quickening," it's a reassuring sign that your baby is OK and growing. This milestone typically starts sometime between 18 to 25 weeks into pregnancy. For first-time moms, it may occur closer to 25 weeks, and for second- or third-time moms, it may happen much sooner.
At first it may be difficult to tell the difference between gas and your baby moving. You might not feel movement as early as you are expecting to feel it, but you'll notice a pattern soon. You'll start to learn when the baby is most active and what seems to get her moving.

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