why do pregnant women get swollen hands, feet and ankles?
Swelling (or “oedema”) happens because you have more fluid in your body when you’re pregnant. Your expanding womb puts pressure on the blood vessels in your pelvis, affecting a large vein called the inferior vena cava. This is the vein that receives blood from your lower limbs, so when the pressure on it slows down circulation, the blood pools, forcing the extra water down into your feet. Towards the end of your pregnancy, your hands may also be affected (remove any rings before your fingers swell too much).
The swelling increases as the day goes on, especially if it’s warm weather or if you’ve been on your feet a lot.
how to avoid swollen hands, feet and ankles
Don't worry: a lot of women experience oedema during pregnancy. However, there are several things you can do to try and avoid swollen feet and hands:
- drink lots of water – up to eight glasses a day. It seems strange, but keeping hydrated reduces fluid retention
- plenty of exercise helps your circulation
- move about – avoid long periods spent standing or sitting
- eating healthily can’t necessarily prevent oedema, but it can help. Eat plenty of fruit and veg, and avoid salty and sugary food
- stop smoking, as it can contribute towards swelling
easing any swelling
If your feet and ankles are swollen, it's time to give yourself some much deserved TLC! Try to:
- put your feet up whenever possible, and rest for an hour each day with your feet raised above heart height
- wear maternity support tights – ask your midwife about these if you aren't sure what to look for
- gentle ankle movements – bending, stretching and rotating your feet can help the circulation and reduce swelling
- have a massage – this is wonderfully soothing. Ask your partner or a friend if you can no longer bend as far as your feet!
- think about what shoes and socks you’re wearing – anything tight will get really uncomfortable
is swelling ever serious?
Swollen extremities can be a sign of pre-eclampsia (a potential problem with your placenta), so if you notice your hands, feet or possibly your face suddenly start to swell, make sure you discuss this with your midwife. It is more likely to be oedema, however you really need to double check with a healthcare professional that this is the case.
Pre-eclampsia is a potentially serious condition that affects pregnant women. Other symptoms include severe headaches, vomiting, and blurred/flashing vision. Sudden swelling is one of the main indicators of pre-eclampsia, so is always worth checking out. Your midwife will take your blood pressure and check your urine for any other pre-eclampsia symptoms.
In most cases, swelling during pregnancy is just one of those antenatal niggles that vanishes after you’ve given birth. As you look down at your puffy ankles clad in unglamorous flip flops (the only footwear that fits) don’t despair. Put your feet up, pour yourself yet another glass of water, and ask your partner for a relaxing foot massage.