The one thing that unites many pregnant women are swollen feet and hands, otherwise known as edema. Their wedding rings may have to come off.
They may have to increase their shoe size or buy a wider width. The dreaded "cankle", where the foot and ankle swells to the size of the calf, is often a common trait during pregnancy, especially in the third trimester.
Swollen extremities may occur more during summer and often are more prevalent at the end of the day. The swelling is usually caused by excess fluid in a pregnant woman's tissues, and the fact that she will retain more fluids during pregnancy as well.
There is also the chance that blood can pool in a woman's lower legs and force fluids in her veins into the tissues of her feet and calves, causing substantial swelling.
The blood may pool because of the pressure the growing baby and uterus puts on a pregnant woman's pelvic veins, including the vena cava, the large vein that carries blood on the right side of the body from her lower limbs back to the heart.
While edema is common in many pregnancies and should not be cause for much concern, there are cases where a medical professional should be consulted.
Swelling can be a symptom of the potentially life-threatening disorder, preeclampsia, which strikes 5-8 percent of all pregnancies and usually occurs after week 20 of a pregnancy.
While a medical professional is the only one who can rule out preeclampsia, here are several symptoms that should be taken seriously:
• Sudden swelling of the feet or ankles, particularly if one leg is more swollen than the other and/or if it is accompanied by pain or tenderness in the calf of thigh
• More than slight swelling of the hands
• Swelling or puffiness of the face or around the eyes
A pregnant woman who is experiencing any or all of these warning signs should take heed and contact a doctor immediately.
When preeclampsia or other dangerous conditions are ruled out, it is understandable that pregnant women would want to reduce edema, if only for vanity’s sake. There are a variety of things one can do that will help cut down swelling and can include:
• Drinking lots of water to help flush excess fluid from the body
• Not crossing one’s legs or ankles
• Getting plenty of exercise
• Avoiding salty, processed food
• Not sitting or standing for too long
• Wearing comfortable shoes that will accommodate feet that swell throughout the day
• Sleeping on one’s left side so as not to put pressure on the vena cava
Though swollen feet and hands are not the most attractive part of pregnancy, moms-to-be can be assured that the swelling will usually go away rapidly once the baby is born. Through excess urination and sweating, the fluids that fill a pregnant woman’s tissues will be disposed of within a few days of child birth.
Babycenter.com. Web. 4 April 2012. “Edema during pregnancy.” http://www.babycenter.com/0_swollen-extremities-edema-during-pregnancy_230.bc
Preeclapsia.org. Web. 4 April 2012. “About preeclampsia”. http://preeclampsia.org/health-information?gclid=CJrw4ZnRnK8CFUhrtgodsgh9Zw
Reviewed April 5, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith