It's normal to experience swelling in the hands, feet, legs, and face after giving birth. Find out about the causes of postpartum swelling, and learn how to relieve it.

By Allison Winn Scotch
Updated October 11, 2019
Enrique Arnaiz Lafuente/Shutterstock

Giving birth doesn't give you back your former body; you're still in for some big changes as it recovers and adjusts to its new demands. One of those changes is postpartum swelling (also known as edema) soon after delivery. Here’s everything you need to know about this common condition.

Reasons for Postpartum Swelling

Why does postpartum swelling happen? Your body carries extra fluids during pregnancy—in fact, your blood volume doubles. Pushing during labor sends this water to your face and extremities, says Kristina Sole, M.D., an associate OB-GYN at the Cleveland Clinic. In turn, you may find yourself extra puffy in your face, arms, and legs. Swollen feet after birth are also common. Women who have C-sections are likely to find themselves swollen as well, thanks to the IV fluids they received.

How To Get Rid of Postpartum Swelling

Fortunately, within days of your baby's birth, your kidneys will kick into overdrive, and you'll start peeing and sweating out this water. 

You might want to relieve any discomfort if your legs, ankles, or feet resemble those of the Pillsbury Doughboy. In this case, you can use a pillow to elevate them above your heart while lying down. Staying hydrated helps your body to shed the extra fluid, and so does avoiding sodium, using cold compresses, and doing light exercise like walking and yoga. 

When to Worry About Swelling

In rare cases, postpartum swelling is a cause for concern. If the swelling is worse on one side or if pain is involved, you may have a significant problem like deep vein thrombosis (DVT), says Nicole Karjane, M.D., assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Virginia Commonwealth University, in Richmond. A DVT is a blood clot that's usually in the leg, but it may break off, travel to the heart, and cause a potentially deadly pulmonary embolism. Contact your doctor immediately if you suspect you may have a DVT. 

While swelling in a C-section scar is common, inform your doctor if you notice heavy bleeding, oozing discharge, a foul odor, or increasing pain. These symptoms may indicate a scar infection.

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