Swelling and Puffiness
During pregnancy, your body retains about 15 pounds of extra fluid in order to support the physical changes happening inside you and your baby. A little more than half of this is used to produce amniotic fluid and to help hydrate and nurture the cells of your baby and the placenta. Most of the remaining fluid is found in your bloodstream, where it enables the blood to carry more oxygen and nutrients to (and remove waste products from) you and your baby.
This increase in blood volume is the main reason many women experience mild swelling, or edema, in their feet and ankles in late pregnancy. Edema occurs in these areas because they're because they're below the level of your heart and it's harder for blood to flow upward to return to the heart. Also, your growing uterus puts pressure on the veins carrying blood back from your lower body. In addition, summer's high temperatures can make your body retain too much fluid, causing your feet and ankles to swell even more. This is especially true when you live in a humid climate where the added moisture in the air makes it more difficult for your body to cool itself.
Swelling in your feet and legs should subside after you elevate them above heart level for 20 to 30 minutes -- rest them on a pile of pillows. If this doesn't reduce the swelling, or if your face, eyes, or both hands look significantly swollen or puffy, call your physician. She may want to check you for preeclampsia, a potentially dangerous pregnancy-related form of high blood pressure. Here are some other things you can do to prevent swelling and discomfort:
- Make sure to drink enough fluids.
- Avoid prolonged standing or sitting. If your work requires you to stand, try to walk around for about five minutes each hour to improve the blood flow from your feet to your heart, or do stair-step exercises, lifting one leg at a time as if you were walking up stairs. If you must sit for prolonged periods, rest your feet on a high stool, a box, or a stack of books to increase blood flow. If this bothers your back, elevate only one leg at a time.
- If you expect to be on your feet a lot, wear maternity support panty hose and use a maternity belt (both are available at maternity stores; hose may also be found at pharmacies) to take the weight of the baby off the blood vessels in your legs. Unfortunately, both of these items can make you even hotter, which for some women cancels out the benefit of wearing them.
- Rest on your side for at least 30 minutes in the morning and afternoon, and sleep on your side at night. This position improves circulation by taking the weight of the baby off the vena cava, a major blood vessel that returns blood from the lower body to the heart.