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Swollen Feet During Pregnancy

Swollen feet are a common occurrence during pregnancy, especially toward the end of the third trimester, or the 35th week  of pregnancy. In most cases, swelling of the feet is normal and not a cause for concern. In other cases, your doctor should be notified immediately.

Swelling (edema) is typically due to an increase in fluid that is retained while you are pregnant. Twenty-five percent of weight gained during pregnancy is a result of fluid retention. The retention of fluid may be uncomfortable, but it plays an important role during labor and delivery. The retained fluid softens the body, which allows it to expand as your baby grows larger. It also helps to prepare your pelvic joints and tissues to open for the passage of your baby through the birth canal.

Usually only the lower extremities — the legs, ankles and feet — are affected, although in some cases the face and hands may also swell. Normal swelling during pregnancy should be slow and progressive. Sudden swelling, especially in the face and hands, is an indication of preeclampsia. Swelling in just one leg or foot, or pain and tenderness in either the calf or thigh, could be signs of a blood clot. Any sudden swelling episodes should be reported to your healthcare provider immediately.

Symptoms of Swollen Feet During Pregnancy

When your body swells, your skin appears tight and shiny. You may also feel warmth in the swollen area. Swelling associated with other symptoms could indicate a condition that could be harmful to you or your baby. If you press down on the swollen area and an indention remains in the spot where you pressed down, the swelling may be the result of a blood clot. Additional symptoms to watch for include the following:

  • Redness
  • Pain when flexing or extending the foot (a sign of a blood clot)
  • Red streaking through the legs (a sign of infection)
  • Weakening of skin (a sign of a blood clot)
  • Swollen area appears purplish in color (a sign of poor circulation or diabetes)

Other symptoms may indicate problems such as congestive heart failure or kidney failure. Talk with your healthcare provider about the possible causes of your swollen feet.

What Causes Swollen Feet During Pregnancy?

In most cases, the swelling is due to fluid retention. While you are pregnant, your body produces up to 50 percent more blood and fluids to properly nourish your baby. Additional causes may include:

  • Preeclampsia or eclampsia
  • Heat or humidity
  • Change of elevation
  • A lack of potassium in your diet
  • Too much salt/sodium in your diet
  • High caffeine intake

Preeclampsia and eclampsia can be serious problems for pregnant women. Preeclampsia, also called “pregnancy-induced hypertension,” usually occurs after the 20th week of pregnancy. When seizures or comas occur, it is referred to as eclampsia. Preeclampsia affects your blood pressure, your kidney function, and your central nervous system. Symptoms typically include a significant rise in blood pressure; puffiness in the face, hands, and feet that is worst early in the day; and excessive weight gain (more than one pound per week during the last trimester). More severe cases of preeclampsia cause blurred vision, headaches, irritability, and abdominal pain. Urine tests may be needed for a proper diagnosis. Preeclampsia is more common among African Americans, mothers over the age of 40 or under the age of 20, mothers who are carrying more than one fetus, mothers who are obese before conception and during pregnancy, and those with a family history or previous experience with the condition.

Treating and Preventing Swollen Feet

There are many preventive measures you can take, as well as treatment options to help you reduce the swelling and deal with symptoms. Here are some tips to help you with swollen feet during pregnancy:

  • Rest your feet as often as possible
  • Elevate your feet (at least 12 inches above your heart level) while resting
  • Drink plenty of water and other fluids during the day
  • Reduce your intake of salt/sodium
  • Eat healthy and exercise regularly
  • Watch for and report to your doctor any additional symptoms that appear
  • Avoid warm, humid environments if possible
  • Stay in cool environments
  • Avoid tight clothing, especially around your lower extremities
  • Use cold compresses on swollen areas
  • Rest or swim in a pool
  • Wear comfortable shoes; avoid high heels when possible
  • Wear supportive stockings, socks, or tights
  • If you are diabetic, check your feet daily for changes

TIP: Hang in there, especially if the swelling is not due to a serious underlying condition. Swollen extremities typically subside two weeks after giving birth.

When to See Your Doctor

It is important to remember that swelling during pregnancy is a normal thing. What is not normal is when the swelling suddenly occurs in your face or hands, or in one leg. Call your healthcare provider immediately if:

  • You feel pain in the swollen area
  • The redness of the swollen area spreads
  • Red streaking in your legs appears
  • You cannot bear weight on affected foot or leg
  • After elevation, swelling does not go down within 24 hours
  • Home remedies such as soaking in Epsom salts do not reduce swelling
  • Anti-inflammatory medications do not work

There is no need to call your healthcare provider if the swelling goes down within 24 hours or if treatment solves your problem. During your next appointment, discuss your experiences with your doctor in order to find a solution that works for you.

[Page updated December 2014]