Swelling is pretty much inevitable at some point in a pregnancy, but during the summer months, it can be especially uncomfortable for those who are expecting.
Kathryn Rivera Litt, MD, an obstetrician and gynecologist with ProMedica Physicians, says that swelling during pregnancy happens for a few reasons. In an effort to increase necessary blood flow to your baby, your blood volume expands, leading to more fluid volume in blood vessels. Plus, your body starts to retain more fluid.
When it comes to swelling, your growing uterus doesn’t help. “As your uterus gets bigger, it puts pressure on the blood vessels that return blood to the heart. This can cause what is called ‘dependent swelling or edema’ in the lower half of your body as blood pools in your legs.
Swelling can start at any time, but is most likely to occur after 20 weeks into your pregnancy as the uterus gets larger. Sometimes it can last a week or two even after delivery because of changing hormones. As fluid is redistributed throughout the body, the swelling eventually goes down.
So what’s a woman to do? Dr. Litt offers the following suggestions:
- Stay properly hydrated
- Avoid heat, which will widen/or dilate your blood vessels and lead to more fluid
- Use a pool or cool compress to cool your body down
- Stay active, as the movement will help return blood to your heart
- Wear compression socks, which will help with blood flow
- Take frequent breaks as needed to prop your feet and encourage blood flow, especially if you are working or active
- Sleep or lay on your side, especially your left side, which will reduce the uterine pressure on your blood vessels
- Take frequent breaks as needed
If you experience pain in your leg or more swelling in one leg than another call your doctor as this could be a sign of a DVT or blood clot in your leg. Also if any persistent headaches, changes in vision, or persistent upper abdominal pain occur, let your doctor know right away as these could be an indicator of a change in blood pressure or preeclampsia.