Pregnancy is accompanied by many physical discomforts for most women. Most are tolerable. However, the swelling during pregnancy third trimester is one of the most hated (other than the obvious changes associated with the “baby bump”).
Most women get through pregnancy with minor side effects. Some experience gestational diabetes, others develop hemorrhoids and heavy vaginal discharge, and still other women can have what is known as transient edema.
In general, edema is a condition where the body’s fluids are retained in its soft tissues. It is normally caused by infection, injury, or illness. This can be localized (for example, only the ankles may be swollen), or it may be generalized. During pregnancy a woman’s body produces about 50% more blood and body fluids. This extra fluid softens the body which allows it to expand as the fetus develops. This additional body fluid also helps the pelvic joints and tissues to open, allowing birth. This extra fluid makes up about 25% of pregnancy weight gain in women. The swelling during pregnancy associated with edema is unsightly and it can be painful, making movement excruciating. Other causes of swelling are summer heat, a diet low in potassium, too much caffeine consumption, or a high sodium intake.
The growing uterus puts pressure on veins returning blood from feet and legs. Similarly, women may experience circulatory pressure changes resulting in swollen arms or hands as well. The notorious swollen feet in pregnancy are a cause of concern for many women. Wearing shoes for normal hours, standing for long periods, or walking for great stretches may become uncomfortable and, finally, painful.
As most women should not take any medications during pregnancy, an obvious avenue for how to reduce swelling during pregnancy is blocked. Women would be prohibited from taking diuretics to flush out the retained fluid. The ballooning ankles and feet of the pregnant woman can be relieved simply by sitting with the use of a footrest or lying flat with the feet and ankles slightly elevated (the height of a pillow). Swimming or simply standing in a pool may provide relief. Another method, for those who cannot stay prone (working women, or otherwise active), would be wearing edema socks. These are orthopedic stockings that are snugly fitted, elasticized, and are of sufficient length to completely cover the lower foot and leg over the calf.
Any woman can control her swelling by avoiding standing for extended periods, and by staying indoors during extremely hot days. Dietary changes can also help ease swelling during pregnancy third trimester. Eating foods high in potassium (such as bananas) and avoiding caffeine are proven “home” remedies. Using cold compresses on the affected areas can help. Finally, drinking a lot of water will be immensely beneficial. It helps flush out the body and reduces fluid retention. Many of these same tips apply to postpartum swelling, too!