In the chapters-long list of changes you can expect during pregnancy, body changes are a surefire bet. Your first maternity clothing purchase is likely those stretchy, ever-expanding jeans with the elastic waistband (god bless whoever invented them!). But it turns out that your belly's not the only area of your body that can swell when you're pregnant. Don't worry, it's completely normal, so long as you're not experiencing swelling in addition to other signs symptomatic of preeclampsia, such as headache, blurred vision, dizziness, nausea/vomiting, elevated blood pressure and shortness of breath. "If you think about it, your body produces 50 percent more blood volume and other body fluids that help in the growth and development of the baby," explains Sherry Ross, M.D., an ob-gyn and women's health expert at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, California. "All the additional fluids will be evenly distributed throughout the body and be most obvious in the hands, legs, feet and face." But the swelling doesn't always stop there. Here are some of the less-talked-about body parts that can sometimes expand and make for a slightly uncomfortable nine months (and counting).
Even Kim Kardashian couldn't stop snapchatting and posting Instagram pics of her feet bulging out of her strappy sandals. When you're pregnant, your growing uterus adds pressure to your limbs, especially your feet and ankles. "As the uterus grows it exerts pressure on your veins and lymphatic tissue, which are responsible for returning blood to the circulation," explains Kameelah Phillips, M.D., an ob-gyn in New York City. "The retained fluid and increased blood volume make it more challenging to remove the fluid from your lower extremities." This makes walking a tad more difficult and sometimes painful—and a great excuse for purchasing a cute new pair of flats! Compression stockings can be helpful, especially when worn early in the day when swelling tends to be less. (Your ob-gyn can advise you on the level of compression you'll need.) "Transitioning to tennis shoes and out of sandals or heels can also help minimize some swelling. If it becomes too difficult to manage, try resting with your legs and feet elevated," Dr. Phillips adds. "This helps move fluid out of those areas."
When it comes to swelling, typically these two facial features go hand in hand. "The nose may feel like it's swollen or congested because the tiny vessels in sinuses dilate with increased volume of blood and fluids," says Dr. Phillips. "This may lead to a sense of congestion or a bloody nose." If you're experiencing frequent bloody noses, however, do mention this to your OB/GYN. It's not an unusual symptom, especially if you're picking due to dryness or allergies, but it's important to keep your doctor informed on all of your symptoms at your prenatal checkups. Most women don't complain when their lips swell during pregnancy, but if you're not a fan of this needle-free enhancement, applying ice to the area can help reduce inflammation.
Just like the nose, the gums can become sensitive to pregnancy-related water retention and increased blood volume, too. "More commonly, gum disease can worsen in pregnancy and should not be ignored," says Dr. Phillips. "Gum issues, regardless of the reason, often present as bleeding after brushing and flossing." For this reason, it's especially important to take care of your teeth and gums during pregnancy and visit the dentist for cleanings as needed. (During pregnancy, you should have at least one oral check-up with your dentist.) "If excessive bleeding from either the nose or gums is noted, your blood work can be checked for signs of pregnancy-related conditions."
Who knew, right? If you notice your eyes appearing more swollen or puffy, especially in the dark-circle region underneath your eyes, you're not imagining things—and a lack of sleep might not be directly to blame. Dr. Ross says that all parts of the face including the eyes swell and enlarge during pregnancy. But not to worry, this retained water causing your eyes to sometimes feel like they're bulging out of your face will exit your body after delivery and your face will return to its normal appearance." It's unlikely that you have to worry about long term changes to your face from water retention or swelling," says Dr. Phillips. In the interim, she suggests addressing eye puffiness with cold compresses or cucumber slices.
As they begin to prepare for lactation, which can start as early as the second trimester, you can expect quite a few changes in your breasts, particularly in the size department. Dr. Ross explains that this is the result of those pesky pregnancy hormones that may cause your knockers to double or even triple in size. "The areola, nipples, and Montgomery glands also increase in size and become more noticeable," she adds. "Wearing a supportive and comfortable bra can help with the breast sensitivities that happen during pregnancy." You can also expect your breasts to fluctuate in size postpartum, so be sure to have a variety of comfort and nursing bras on hand.
Especially when you hit your third trimester, you can expect fluid retention to cause your hands and wrists to swell. This is often the result of an increase in blood volume and bodily fluids. "Pain, heaviness, tingling and the feeling of hands falling asleep are also common symptoms," says Dr. Ross. "Nerves in the wrist get squeezed cause pain and numbness in the finger tips also known as carpal tunnel syndrome." If you experience swelling in your hands, try limiting your salt intake and removing rings before they become too tight. "A hand massage can help relieve some of the pressure in this area and wearing a wrist stabilizer may help minimize associated numbness and tingling," says Dr. Phillips.
"With the increased volume of fluid in the circulatory system, combined with uterine pressure that makes it more difficult to bring excess fluid up from the lower body, the excess fluid can pool in the superficial circulatory system," says Dr. Phillips. The result? Varicose veins—those unpleasant and unattractive lines that appear to be bulging out of your skin. "These veins can be an esthetic annoyance or painful to the touch and with walking." While they do have a genetic component, Dr. Phillips notes that they can often worsen or appear for the first time during pregnancy. She recommends compression stockings to keep the excess fluid from building up during the day. (Again, your ob-gyn can tell you which level of compression is right for you.)
Yes—your vulva and vagina region are common sites of engorgement, especially towards your second and third trimesters. In a nutshell: Anywhere your body holds veins, blood will travel and in larger amounts during pregnancy. This can cause certain areas, including your vagina, to become congested due to the uterine pressure on the pelvic veins. As you can imagine, this can make intercourse even more uncomfortable than your expanding belly is already causing it to be. "While there are no compression garments for this part of the body, flexible belly support garments may be helpful," says Dr. Phillips. "After delivery this swelling generally improves and is short lived."