Discomforts of Pregnancy: Swelling

During pregnancy, the body produces approximately 50% more blood and body fluids to meet the needs of the developing baby. Swelling is a normal part of pregnancy that is caused by this additional blood and fluids. Normal swelling, which is also called edema, is experienced in the hands, face, legs, ankles, and feet.

This extra retention of fluid is needed to soften up the body which enables it to expand as the baby develops. Extra fluid also helps prepare the pelvic joints and tissues for opening up to allow the baby to be born. The extra fluids account for approximately 25% of the weight women gain during pregnancy.

When does swelling occur during pregnancy?

Swelling may be experienced at any point during pregnancy, but it tends to be noticed around the fifth month; and can increase while you are in the third trimester. The following factors may also affect swelling:

  • Summertime heat
  • Standing for longer periods of time
  • "Long" days of activity
  • Diets low in potassium
  • Higher levels of caffeine consumption
  • Higher levels of sodium intake

Slight swelling is expected during pregnancy, however if you experience sudden swelling in your hands and your face, it could be a sign of preeclampsia. It is important to contact your physician about any sudden swelling.

What can you do to treat swelling during pregnancy?

Swelling may be reduced by eating foods that are high in potassium such as bananas and avoiding caffeine. Here are some other helpful hints for managing swelling during your pregnancy:

  • Avoid standing for long periods
  • Minimize outdoor time when it is hot
  • Rest with your feet elevated
  • Wear comfortable shoes, avoiding high heels if possible
  • Wear supportive tights or stockings
  • Avoid clothes that are tight around your wrists or ankles
  • Have your legs massaged
  • Remove your rings before your fingers swell up
  • Drink water which helps flush the body and reduce water retention
  • Minimize sodium (salt) intake, avoid adding additional salt to meals

Reprinted with permission from American Pregnancy Association.