Everything You Need to Know About Postpartum Swelling

Find out about the causes of postpartum swelling and how to relieve it.

Woman Laying Closeup Legs and Hand
Photo: Enrique Arnaiz Lafuente/Shutterstock

Giving birth doesn't immediately give you back your pre-pregnancy body. Your postpartum body is still changing as it recovers and adjusts to its new demands. One of those changes that occur soon after delivery is postpartum swelling (also known as edema).

Read on to learn why postpartum swelling happens, ways to reduce swelling, and when you should contact a health care provider.

Reasons for Postpartum Swelling

Postpartum swelling happens for a lot of reasons, including:

  • Extra fluid and blood left over from pregnancy
  • IV fluids administered during labor
  • Pushing

Your body carries extra fluids during pregnancy—in fact, your blood volume increases by as much as 50%. And these extra fluids don't just immediately disappear after you give birth.

Plus, you may have even more postpartum swelling if you had IV fluids during a C-section or vaginal birth. Some research has found that IV fluids in labor can lead to excess breast swelling, sometimes interfering with breastfeeding.

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 is also common.

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.

However, in the meantime, there are some things you can do to ease the discomfort in your extremities from swelling, including:

  • Using a pillow to elevate your feet above your heart
  • Staying hydrated
  • Avoiding sodium
  • Using cold compresses
  • Doing light exercises, like walking and yoga

Elevation reduces swelling by improving blood flow and helping blood from your limbs return to your heart. And while hydration may seem counterintuitive, taking in enough fluids helps your kidneys work better to flush out toxins and excess fluid.

Too much sodium can contribute to fluid retention, so reducing the amount of sodium you eat in your foods can help you reduce postpartum swelling faster.

Cold compresses reduce blood flow, which can help with inflammation. Likewise, light exercise reduces inflammation.

When to Worry About Swelling

In rare cases, postpartum swelling is a cause for concern. It can sometimes indicate a serious postpartum complication.

Deep vein thrombosis

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, Virginia. Other symptoms include skin redness and warmth.

A DVT is a blood clot that's usually in the leg, but it may break off, travel to the heart or lungs, and cause a potentially deadly pulmonary embolism. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some things can place some people at higher risk for this complication, including:

  • Having had a previous blood clot or a family history of blood clots
  • Having excess weight or obesity
  • Smoking
  • Delivery by C-section
  • Bed rest or other immobility
  • Pregnancy after age 35
  • Pregnancy with multiples
  • Having used fertility treatments involving the use of hormones

Contact a health care provider immediately if you suspect you may have a DVT.

Postpartum preeclampsia

While preeclampsia is most often associated with late pregnancy, postpartum preeclampsia can also occur after you give birth. The condition involves very high blood pressure and organ dysfunction. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), it usually happens within days after birth but can strike as long as six weeks postpartum.

Swelling associated with preeclampsia is usually most notable in the hands and face. Other symptoms include:

  • Vision disturbances like blurring, light sensitivity, or seeing spots
  • Persistent headache
  • Shortness of breath
  • Shoulder or abdominal pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sudden weight gain (2 to 3 pounds or more in a week)

Postpartum preeclampsia can lead to seizures and stroke and can be deadly, so if you notice symptoms that may indicate preeclampsia, contact a health care provider immediately.


While swelling in a C-section scar is common, inform your doctor if you notice signs of infection. According to the March of Dimes, these may include:

  • Fever over 100.4 F
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Oozing discharge around the incision, episiotomy, or tear
  • A foul odor
  • Increasing pain
  • Pain while urinating
  • Red streaks on your breast

These symptoms may indicate a scar infection, a uterine infection, a urinary tract infection, or mastitis (a breast infection).

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