How to Help Manage Swelling in Pregnancy: A Mama-To-Be’s Guide

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How to Help Manage Swelling in Pregnancy: A Mama-To-Be’s Guide

Ah, the adorable look of a pregnant woman! Cute maternity clothes, a radiant smile, glowing skin, a beautiful bump, fingers like overcooked sausages, red and itchy cankles…

While you can try to run from pregnancy swelling, it’s unfortunately as much a part of pregnancy as the adorable stuff. 

Afflicting nearly all expectant moms to some degree, swelling in pregnancy can be a real bummer—and might even verge on painful. Although you won’t shed all your excess fluid until after delivery, read on for some tips, tricks, and mama care products to help you navigate and minimize these mottled months and tumescent trimesters.

What is Swelling?

Swelling, called edema by your medical professionals, is simply the retention of fluid in the body. It occurs when tiny blood vessels leak fluid into the surrounding tissues, particularly in the face, hands, ankles, and feet. 

During pregnancy, mild swelling is very common as your body meets the demands of your developing baby. 

While swelling in pregnancy can begin early for some expectant mothers, nearly all pregnant women feel some appendage or mild swelling by the third trimester. But before lamenting the puffy state of your cheeks and ankles, take a moment to appreciate exactly what your body is doing for you and your developing baby.

A pregnant woman’s body exhibits drastic and dynamic changes in composition during the three trimesters of pregnancy. Chief among these changes is an increase in the amount of body fluids within the body. The increase of body fluids can be as much as 30 - 50% volume! 

Unfortunately, the weight and pressure of your growing bump can make it hard for your body to circulate all that excess fluid, particularly at the end of the day.

This extra fluid—which exists in the form of blood, plasma, and water—is used to support both you and your baby by carrying oxygen, delivering nutrients, and clearing away toxins and waste products. 

So while sudden swelling is no picnic, it can play  a vital part in your healthy pregnancy.

Factors that May Impact Swelling

Your swelling will come and go depending on hormones, environment, nutrition, and some unknown cocktail of ingredients that you might never untangle. However, research has shown that certain factors may impact how much swelling you have on any given day:

  • Weather – Ask any expectant mother in the summer—hot weather and pregnancy are an ugly combo! From sweating more than usual to finding non-hideous maternity swimwear to outfitting a melasma ‘stach, a summer pregnancy can be downright miserable. Making a hot-weather pregnancy particularly uncomfortable, however, is that sudden swelling is exacerbated by warm weather.
  • Nutrition – Salt and caffeine have long been implicated in swelling. Limiting your intake of foods and drinks that are very high in salt and/or caffeine can be vital to keeping your swelling symptoms under control. Although it’s pretty easy to look out for caffeine (remember to avoid soda!), looking out for hidden salt can be trickier. Always check labels for sodium content and be particularly aware of salt lurking in canned or pickled foods, breads, cereals, condiments, cheese, and processed foods. Remember, though, you do need some sodium in your diet to stay healthy.
  • Clothing – Not only do too-tight clothes and shoes feel horrible on a tender, swollen body, but they can also actually lead to further swelling! Avoid wearing anything that can restrict your blood flow, like socks or pants with tight bands. Loose clothing not only looks great on an expanding belly, but it can also help reduce swelling by keeping you cool. Similarly with shoes, if the straps or sides press uncomfortably into your skin, opt for something more spacious for the duration of your pregnancy.

How to Help Manage Swelling

You ran, you hid...but the swelling got you anyway. Don’t fret. It’s an inevitable part of pregnancy.

So now what?

Now you need to take steps to help manage your swelling, both from the inside and outside. 

Help Managing Swelling from the Inside

Although you can’t entirely stop your pregnant body from swelling, you can help control some of the factors that lead to it from the inside—particularly, what you consume. While you might already be avoiding caffeine and salt as part of your pregnancy self care practices, there are certain high-potassium foods you can purposefully consume that may actually help reverse some of your discomfort and swelling, including:8

  • Fresh fruits
    • Berries
    • Papayas
    • Bananas
    • Figs
    • Avocados
    • Apricots
    • Pumpkin
  • Fresh vegetables
    • Spinach
    • Lettuce
    • Celery
    • Peas
    • Cabbage
    • Watercress
    • Scallions
    • Sweet potatoes
  • Lean proteins
    • Chicken
    • Low-Mercury Fish
    • Beans, especially kidney and pinto
    • Lentils
    • Turkey
    • Lean beef
  • Other sources
    • Molasses
    • Brown and wild rice
    • Bran cereal

Ironically, consuming plenty of fresh, plain water is actually one of the best ways you can further reduce swelling.9 To that end, try to drink at least 8 to 10 glasses of water every day.

Help Manage Swelling from the Outside

Just as important as what you consume is how you care for yourself during your pregnancy. Try to incorporate these five activities into your daily routine to help your body process all that extra fluid:

  • Exercise – Ideally, pregnant women should get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week. While your growing bump and dropping energy may make this sound daunting, you can break the total minutes up into bite-sized chunks. A 5 to 10-minute walk every couple hours will not only leave you feeling refreshed but will also help you redistribute retained fluid and promote healthy weight gain.
  • Cool off – A cool shower or a little swim is a great way to wash off sweat, bring down your overheated body temperature, and reduce swelling all over. If you opt for a cool shower, give yourself a mini-spa moment with scented oils or a bubbly shower gel* for a psychological boost. If you opt for a swim, log it as exercise and a cool off!  
  • Take a break to elevate – Experiencing foot swelling during pregnancy? If you have a job or lifestyle that requires long hours on your feet, you already know the benefit of a little leg raise. Getting off your feet and elevating them is the single best way you can help reduce the swelling in your lower legs, ankles, and feet. Especially toward the end of the day, a little break to elevate is a must-do for all expectant mothers.
  • Massage – Don’t discount the power of touch! A professional pregnancy massage will do wonders for your wellbeing, but getting one daily isn’t practical. Instead, learn how to give your feet and legs a little massage to help bring down swelling. Start by grabbing a nice quality oil* or lotion*. Warm it between your hands then apply to your feet, ankles, and legs in a gentle circular manner. Be mindful not to put too much pressure on your inner ankles or the space between your thumb and pointer finger since this could induce labor according to folk-medicine. Be careful to guard against slipping if you’re using products on your feet as well. 
  • Sleep it off – When all else fails, sleep. Getting a good night of rest is one of the best things you can do for yourself as an expectant mother. Not only will 8 hours of solid shut-eye help relieve your aches, pains, and swellings, but your days of unbroken sleep are limited so enjoy it while you can! Some research has shown that sleeping on your left side further helps relieve swelling because the pressure is lifted from your main heart vein, known as your vena cava, allowing for an easier blood return from your extremities.

How to Tell If Something is Wrong

Normal pregnancy swelling is nothing to worry about. However, sometimes extreme swelling can be a sign of something that requires medical attention. Preeclampsia is a potentially dangerous blood pressure disorder that affects 5 to 8% of pregnancies in the United States after the 20th week.9 

If you notice any of the following, contact your medical team immediately:

  • Unusual amounts of swelling 
    • In your face, particularly around your eyes
    • In your hands
    • In your feet
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sudden weight gain of more than 4 pounds in a week
  • Nausea or vomiting returning mid-pregnancy
  • Severe headache
  • Abdominal pain

Chances are that your swelling is normal, but it’s always wise to consult with  your healthcare professional if you have concerns.

Feel Your Best with Honest

Whether you’re in your ninth week and feeling a wee bit puffy or in your ninth month and feeling swollen as a beach ball, we at Honest® have the new mom essentials you need to help make your pregnancy the best it can be. 

At Honest,® we take our mission to support your pregnancy with thoughtfully-designed products that work seriously. Whether you are researching how to minimize the appearance of pregnancy stretch marks or how to navigate pregnancy swelling, we have you covered.

Our Glow On Body Oil is the perfect addition to your post-shower hydration routine or to your self-massage. Plant-based and organic, a few drops of this liquid sunshine will help soothe dry, itchy skin and keep your skin soft and hydrated. 

Included in our Pregnant and Pampered Set, in our Honest Mama Bump Care Kit, and in our Bump Love Bundle, our Glow On Body Oil pairs well with our Rock the Bump Butter. Our Glow on Body Oil was formulated to help support growing bellies and our Rock the Bump Body Butter was designed for everyday use on stretch mark prone skin.  

*This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. Pregnant or breastfeeding individuals should check with their doctor before using any new product, as they know your history best. 

Sources: 

Edema - Symptoms and Causes. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/edema/symptoms-causes/syc-2036649

Widen, E. M., & Gallagher, D. (2015, June 1). Body Composition Changes in Pregnancy. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4078736/

12 Things No One Expects During a Summer Pregnancy. (2015, July 24). LiveWell with Unity Point Health. https://www.unitypoint.org/livewell/article.aspx?id=49904dd7-4251-4650-a311-9c2f79ab4c1f

Do You Know Where Salt is Hiding in Your Food? (2020, September 14). Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials. https://health.clevelandclinic.org/know-salt-hiding-food/

Exercise During Pregnancy. (2019, July). The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. 

https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/exercise-during-pregnancy#:~:text=How%20much%20should%20I%20exercise,arms

Kramer, J. (2015, January 26). 3 Self-Massages that will Ease your Pregnancy Aches and Pains. Womens Health Magazine. https://www.womenshealthmag.com/life/a19894422/self-massages-for-pregnancy/

Humphries A, Mirjalili SA, Tarr GP, Thompson JMD, Stone P. (2019, December). The Effect of Supine Positioning on Maternal Hemodynamics During Late Pregnancy. The Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29772936/

Potassium Deficiency – How Is It Diagnosed? How Can You Supplement Potassium? Life Life Diag. https://www.lifelinediag.eu/en/potassium-deficiency/

Swelling During Pregnancy. American Pregnancy Association. https://americanpregnancy.org/healthy-pregnancy/pregnancy-health-wellness/swelling-during-pregnancy/

Answers To Our Most Frequently Asked Questions. (2020, January 17). Preeclampsia Foundation. https://www.preeclampsia.org/faqs

We aim to provide you with the most honest and credible information possible. This article was reviewed for accuracy by The Honest Team and was written based on trusted sources that are linked at the bottom of the article.

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