Q: Why are my legs so swollen during pregnancy, and what can I do about it?
A: Raised hormone levels cause you to retain water during pregnancy, making you feel swollen and bloated. However, this discomfort isn't for nothing -- your body needs this extra fluid so it can do the work of carrying nutrients and oxygen to your baby.
Although swelling is not a huge concern, consult your doctor if you notice swelling of your face and hands along with blurred vision, severe or constant headaches, and weight gain of more than a pound a day. These can be signs of preeclampsia, a serious condition marked by blood pressure and protein in the urine during pregnancy.
Typically, fluid retention is particularly pronounced in your feet, ankles, and calves because your growing uterus puts pressure on the veins that carry blood back from your lower body. This partially blocks blood flow, keeping fluid in your legs and feet. Blood vessels are also smallest in your foot and ankle, so your body has difficulty accommodating the extra fluid pouring in there.Luckily, you can offset discomfort in a variety of ways:
• Elevate your feet as often as you can. Try to raise your legs six to 12 inches above your heart for 15 to 20 minutes to help the blood flow back to your heart and lungs.• Sleep on your side, not your back. This relieves pressure on the vena cava, the largest vein leading to the heart. Otherwise, the pressure slows the blood returning from your lower body.• Consume a lot of fluids. Dehydration worsens swelling.• Monitor your weight. Women of normal weight should gain 25 to 35 pounds during pregnancy. Excessive weight gain exacerbates swelling and can lead to other problems.• Improve the circulation in your ankles with rotation exercises. Try sitting, with one leg raised. Rotate your ankle 10 times to the right, then to the left. Switch legs. Repeat 10 times.• Ice your ankles. With your feet up, apply ice to the inside of your ankles for 15 to 20 minutes every half hour to an hour.