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Swelling during pregnancy

4-minute read

Why do women experience swelling during pregnancy?

Most women get swollen ankles and feet while pregnant. It’s natural to have concerns about swelling since it can be uncomfortable, make your shoes tighter and possibly make you feel embarrassed.

There are 3 main reasons women experience swelling while pregnant.

  • Throughout pregnancy, you produce more blood than usual to help your baby grow.
  • As the baby grows, your uterus presses on and slightly blocks the veins that return blood from your legs to your heart.
  • Your hormones make the walls of your veins softer, which makes it harder for them to work properly.

For these reasons, your blood tends to pool in your legs. There, a small amount of blood leaks through tiny blood vessels into the tissues and produces the swelling you can see and feel.

Where and when will I get swelling?

The swelling should be only in your feet and ankles. Your fingers might get a little larger — enough to make any rings feel tight — but they shouldn't be obviously swollen.

Your feet and ankles are likely to swell later in the day. This is mainly due to gravity — any extra fluid in your body will sink to your feet and ankles, especially if you spend a lot of time on your feet.

Swelling is also more likely to happen later in your pregnancy.

Gradual swelling isn't harmful to you or your baby, but it can feel uncomfortable.

How can I reduce swelling?

Some simple things can help you feel more comfortable and can also aid in preventing swelling.

Try to:

  • avoid standing for long periods without moving
  • wear comfortable shoes (avoid tight straps or anything that might pinch if your feet swell)
  • put your feet up as much as you can
  • limit salty foods and excessive salt in your diet
  • sleep on your left side, which will help blood return to the heart
  • exercise regularly by walking or swimming — this helps keep your circulation going

If you need to stand for long periods, try to move around and change position regularly.

Compression stockings can help the blood flow back to the heart and limit how much swelling you get. Massage and reflexology might also help reduce swelling and associated symptoms.

Even if your swelling is bothering you, remember to still drink plenty of water. Keeping your fluids up is important to avoid dehydration and stay healthy.

Normal or abnormal swelling?

Most pregnant women have swollen feet and ankles at some point, and this is perfectly normal. However, there are times when swelling could indicate something more serious.

Contact your midwife, doctor or hospital immediately if:

  • swelling is there at the start of the day or doesn't go down when you rest
  • your face or hands are swollen
  • the swelling is more than you have had before

These are warning signs for pre-eclampsia, which is high blood pressure caused by pregnancy. This is a very serious condition both for you and your baby, so call your doctor or midwife as soon as possible. Don't wait for your next regular appointment.

If one leg is more swollen than the other, this could suggest a more serious problem with one of your veins, such as deep vein thrombosis. Again, contact your doctor or midwife as soon as possible.

Most swelling is a normal part of pregnancy and will usually go away after you've given birth. However, if you're concerned about anything, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, talk to your doctor or midwife.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

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Last reviewed: February 2020

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