Edema in Pregnancy

If you’re wondering why your ankles and feet are so puffy, then you are experiencing the joys of edema (oedema)! When fluid collects in your tissues during pregnancy, it is not uncommon to experience some painful swelling as you retain more water than ever doing this crucial time. The truth is that your swelling can vary by the time of day with the puffiness getting worse as the day progresses. Some women experience a marked increase in swelling when the weather is warmer.

But the truth is that edema, although uncomfortable and unattractive, is harmless and normal during pregnancy. With three out of four women experiencing edema during the third trimester, you are certainly not alone.

Why does edema occur?

The growing uterus can exert a tremendous amount of pressure on a pregnant woman’s pelvic veins and vena cava. This pressure causes a slowing down of the blood returning from your legs to the heart resulting in blood pooling in your lower extremities; which in turn tends to force the fluid in your veins into the surrounding tissues. Changes in blood chemistry during pregnancy also contribute to water being expelled into the tissues. Since the vena cava is on the right side of the body, it is recommended that women sleep on their left side during pregnancy to release the pressure on this important vein.

When do I need to be concerned about edema

While some amount of edema is perfectly normal in your toes and ankles during pregnancy, you may also notice that your fingers can appear swollen at times. However, if this swelling is observed on other parts the body such as around your face, it is time to inform your doctor as this could indicate preeclampsia, a condition that must be taken seriously. Here, women have elevated blood pressures accompanied by protein in the urine. The physician might recommend bed rest and medications to control the blood pressure.

If you notice that one of your feet or ankles is much more swollen than the other, it may be necessary to inform your doctor in case your blood is pooling excessively around one extremity rather than both. This serious condition may also be accompanied by a pain in your thighs or calves.

How can I prevent or minimize water retention

While edema cannot always be prevented, there are many ways to reduce your discomfort.

  • Whenever possible, elevate your legs. This may not always be possible if you are at work, but resting your feet on a couple of stacked pillows under your desk can give you tremendous relief.
  • If you’re used to crossing your legs when you sit, get ready to drop that habit for the duration of your pregnancy. This can further detract from your blood flow causing even more fluid collection.
  • It might be counter intuitive to drink water during periods of swelling, but the truth is that staying well hydrated helps you retain less water.
  • Wear comfortable clothing that will accommodate your swelling. Loose kaftans or kurtis are ideal at this time.
  • Exercising regularly, either by walking or getting on a treadmill can reduce swelling even in women that show signs of edema in the second trimester. Exercise will improve your blood circulation and therefore minimize chances of blood pooling around your extremities.

Remember that edema is a temporary inconvenience of pregnancy. Your body will get rid of this fluid within a few weeks of childbirth. So if you feel the continued urge to urinate or even find yourself sweating excessively after the baby is born, just know that it is a sign that your figure is slowly but surely getting back to its old self!

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