One of the most overlooked pregnancy side effects is swollen feet and ankles Did you know that virtually all women suffer from lower limb swelling in their pregnancy? Sometimes, they swell up so much that the ankles disappear. It explains why so many women switch to bigger, roomier footwear when they are expecting.
The culprit is the extra fluid in the body combined with the pressure from the growing uterus, says Dr Aarthi Bharat, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynecologist, Motherhood Hospital, Banashankari, Bangalore. “As a woman’s due date approaches, the swelling tends to worsen, especially at the end of the day and during hotter weather.”
But feet swelling is not an immediate side effect of pregnancy. “It commonly starts in week 28 of pregnancy,” says the doc. Before you know it, your tootsies start resembling little sausages as you approach week 40.
What causes swollen feet and ankles during pregnancy?
Swollen feet in pregnancy can be broadly attributed to three factors, according to Dr Bharat.
Like in most cases, the stomach is among the usual suspects. “In pregnancy, the hormone progesterone slows down digestion, which causes bloating long before you notice a visible baby bump,” notes the doctor.
Consult your doctor if there’s a lot of swelling accompanied by other symptoms like dizziness or headache, warns Dr Bharat.
Increased blood in the body
Pregnancy causes an increase in the volume of blood in your body. “It increases by approximately 50%,” informs Dr Bharat. And voila! There you have it. Swollen feet. “Swollen feet are common around the fifth month of pregnancy if you are on your feet a lot and the weather is hot,” she says.
During normal pregnancy total body water increases by 6 to 8 liters, 4 to 6 liters of which are extracellular, of which at least 2 to 3 liters are interstitial.
Pressure from the uterus
It’s a no brainer that the uterus grows heavier during pregnancy. Combine bulky womb with increase blood and fluids. What you get is swelling. “As your baby grows, your uterus becomes heavier, which can slow blood flow from the legs back to the heart,” informs Dr Bharat.
There are other lesser-known factors too that can contribute to swollen feet in pregnancies. These include dietary imbalances, hot weather, caffeine consumption, dehydration and being on the feet for long periods.
Steps to reduce swollen feet during pregnancy
If your sausage feet are draining the joy out of your pregnancy, you don’t have to suffer in silence. There are many steps (get it?) you can take to reduce swollen feet.
Banishing the salt shaker from your table to the dark corners of your pantry will be a good place to start.
Any conversation on swelling, bloating or water retention is incomplete without a caveat on sodium and salt. “Limit your consumption to reduce swelling during pregnancy,” says Dr Bharat. “Salt consumption can cause your body to retain extra water. Avoid canned or processed food, which are particularly high in sodium.”
Also Read: How to get pregnant: Gynec-approved tips to prepare your body
Eat more potassium
Remember ladies, bananas (and potassium) are your best friend. Potassium helps your body balance its fluids. “Get some extra potassium from your prenatal vitamins, but it’s also important to eat foods high in potassium,” says Dr Bharat.
What are the potassium-rich foods you ask? Apart from bananas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, bananas, spinach, beans, pomegranate, orange, carrot and passion fruit are rich sources of potassium.
When you are bloated, the last thing you want is tight, ill-fitting clothes. They are unsightly and can also worsen swelling. Free your wrists, waist, and ankles and wear airy, loose clothes.
“Essentially, tight clothes prevent blood from circulating as freely. Wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing and avoid tight elastic bands. Summer maternity maxi dresses and winter flowy cardigans or sweaters with joggers can be comfortable,” adds Dr Bharat.
Get moving, even it is for a five-ten minute walk a couple of times a day. “This can improve circulation, which can, in turn, reduce swelling. This can also serve as a nice break in your day and a great way to get some pregnancy-safe exercise,” she adds.
Get comfy shoes
Pregnancy may want you to rethink your entire shoe closet. The doctor warns against the strappy, high heeled ones that can mess with your centre of gravity and put you at risk of falling.
Ditch heeled shoes for comfy ones. Well-fitting shoes not only reduce foot swelling but can also prevent hip and back problems.
Also Read: Uterine fibroids: When to see a gynecologist
“While there are no studies to prove, many pregnant women feel a reduction in discomfort and swelling while they spend time in pools,” notes the doctor.
Standing or swimming in a pool with neck-deep water will alleviate some of the swelling. “At the very least, you will feel lighter and cooler.”
Sleep on your left side
Now here’s a tip worth noting. Whenever possible, turn to your left while sleeping to improve blood flow and thereby reduce swelling. “Lying on your left side can relieve pressure on the inferior vena cava, the large blood vessel that returns blood to your heart,” explains Dr Bharat.
Call it common sense, but nothing knocks out water retention as water does. The most invaluable tip against swollen feet is to stay hydrated. According to the doc, 10 glasses of H20 is good to go.
“It will keep your kidneys flushing out the bad stuff and your body hydrated. You can also add lemon, mint, or berries to your water to make it more enjoyable.”