Swollen Feet During Pregnancy

Swollen Feet During Pregnancy

Swollen feet during pregnancy are a common occurrence, especially towards the end of the third trimester, or 35th week of pregnancy. In most cases, swelling of the feet is normal and not a cause for concern. In other cases, your doctor or midwife should be notified immediately (we will go over that later). Among various reasons, swelling (edema) is typically due to an increase in fluid that is retained while you are pregnant. Twenty five percent of the 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. As your body retains the fluid, it 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.

Many times, only the lower extremities (legs, ankles and feet) are affected. However, the face and hands may also swell. Throughout your pregnancy, the swelling should be slow or progressive. Sudden swelling, especially in the face and hands is an indication of preeclampsia. Swelling occurring in one leg or foot and pain and tenderness felt in either the calf or thigh could be signs of a blood clot. Any sudden swelling episodes should be reported to your health care provider immediately.

Symptoms of Swollen Feet During Pregnancy

Typically, swelling is a symptom of an underlying condition, including being pregnant. For example, when your body swells your skin appears tight and shiny. You may also feel warmth in the swollen area and not anywhere else. Swelling associated with other symptoms could indicate a condition that could be harmful to you or your baby. For example, if you were to press down on the swollen area and an indention was left, the swelling might be the result of a blood clot. Additional symptoms to watch for include the following:

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

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

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% more blood and fluids to properly nourish your baby. Additional causes may include:

  • Preeclampsia or eclampsia
  • Hot or warm, humid days
  • Humidity in air
  • Change of elevations
  • Lack of potassium in diet
  • Too much salt/sodium in diet
  • High levels of caffeine intake

Preeclampsia and eclampsia can be a serious problem for pregnant women. Preeclampsia, also called “pregnancy-induced hypertension”, usually occurs from the 20th week of pregnancy until a week after delivery. When seizures or comas occur, it is referred to as eclampsia. Preeclampsia affects your blood pressure, kidney function and your central nervous system. Signs and symptoms typically include a significant rise in blood pressure, puffiness in face, hands and feet that is worst early in the day, and excessive weight gain (more than 1 lb per week during 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 less than 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

Many of the treatment options for you are also preventive measures 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” above your heart level) while resting
  • Drink plenty of water and other fluids during the day
  • Reduce or avoid salt/sodium
  • Eat healthy and exercise regularly
  • Watch for and report any additional symptoms that appear to your doctor or midwife
  • 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 and/or tights
  • If you are diabetic, you should 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 or Midwife

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, hands or in one leg. Call your health care 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 health care provider if the swelling goes down within 24 hours or if any of the other treatment and preventive measures solves your problem. During your next prenatal visit, discuss what you have been experiencing with your doctor or midwife so they can help you find a solution that works for you.

[Page updated June 2014]