Expecting moms commonly experience swollen feet during pregnancy. You may notice that your shoes no longer fit, your ankles and lower legs are swollen, and your feet look noticeably larger in size. Swelling causes fluid to accumulate under your skin and results in enlargement of the area. It is most likely to occur during the third trimester of pregnancy and may require you to buy a new larger pair of shoes.  While swelling may feel uncomfortable and look undesirable, it is a normal part of pregnancy and is not a cause for alarm. You can read more about swelling here.
What causes swollen feet during pregnancy?
Pregnancy results in a 50% increase in the volume of your blood.  This increase in blood volume is proportional to the birthweight of your baby and usually occurs by the 34th week of pregnancy. The kidneys of expecting moms also retain more water and sodium, resulting in even greater fluid volume in the body.
Hormonal changes and pressure from the enlarging uterus cause the veins in your legs to expand in size. Normally, these veins compress and get narrower in order to push blood up the legs and towards the heart, where blood gets recirculated throughout the body. However, pregnancy results in expansion of these veins, making it more difficult for blood to travel up the legs. This causes the blood to pool in your lower legs, ankles, and feet, resulting in swelling.
How to decrease swelling in your feet
There are a number of steps that you can take to reduce swelling in your feet: [3,4]
- Sleep on your left side. This will remove some of the pressure that the uterus applies to the veins in your pelvis and legs.
- Elevate your feet. It is best to put your feet up so that they are higher than your heart. This will encourage blood to travel away from your feet, reducing the amount of fluid accumulation.
- Wear compression socks or stockings. These apply pressure to your lower legs and feet to push fluid out of those areas and reduce swelling. Talk with your doctor about choosing compression socks that may work for you. It is recommended to start out with socks that provide lightweight pressure, such as 12-15 mmHg or 15-20 mmHg.
- Drink 8-10 cups of water. Drinking more water can encourage your body to remove excess fluid when you urinate, which may help reduce swelling.
- Move around. Try not to sit or stand in one place for extended periods of time. If you are sitting, take frequent breaks to get up and walk around for a few minutes.
- Avoid foods with a high salt content. Salty foods can increase the amount of water that your body retains and will further increase fluid accumulation.
- Stay inside during hot and humid days. Hot temperatures can worsen swelling.
- Massage your feet. This will help your feet feel better, increase blood flow to the area, and decrease swelling.
When will symptoms improve?
Swelling will start to decrease after childbirth when your body starts removing excess fluid that was necessary for your pregnancy.  You may notice that you are urinating or sweating more after your delivery. This is your body’s natural way of eliminating excess fluid. The swelling may persist for about a week after pregnancy and may even seem to get worse before improving.
Although swelling of the feet and ankles is a common occurrence in pregnancy, if you notice that you have swelling of your hands or face, especially around your eyes, you should contact your doctor.  This could be a sign of preeclampsia, a complication characterized by high blood pressure in expecting moms. Other signs of preeclampsia include severe headaches, light sensitivity, temporary vision loss, upper stomach pain, and shortness of breath. Preeclampsia can be dangerous to both you and your baby, so it is important to contact your doctor if you notice these changes. You can read more about preeclampsia here. Additionally, if you notice that swelling only occurs in one of your legs, you should contact your doctor immediately because this could be a sign of a blood clot.
Swollen feet is a common problem experienced by expecting moms during the third trimester of pregnancy. The best method for reducing swelling is to avoid sitting or standing for long periods of time and to elevate your feet. After your delivery, your body will remove excess fluid and the swelling should decrease over time.
- Ponnapula P, Boberg JS. Lower Extremity Changes Experienced During Pregnancy. J Foot Ankle Surg. 2010;49(5):452-458.
- Soma-Pillay P, Nelson-Piercy C, Tolppanen H, Mebazaa A. Physiological changes in pregnancy. Cardiovasc J Afr. 2016;27(2):89-94.
- Cleveland Clinic. 6 Best Fixes for Pain and Swelling in Your Feet and Ankles. Published June 17, 2017. Accessed September 27, 2017.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. Preeclampsia. Mayo Clinic. Published April 21, 2017. Accessed September 27, 2017.