Swelling in the Third Trimester: What's Normal, When to Worry, What to Do

swelling in pregnancy.pngIf you've never heard of the term "cankles," chances are high that you will know all about it in your third trimester. Swelling (aka "edema") in your feet, ankles, and hands throughout pregnancy and especially as your pregnancy nears the end is very common and normal. 

During pregnancy, your body produces 50% more blood and bodily fluids, most of which is created to meet baby's needs. These excess fluids also pool in your bodily tissues and joints, which is necessary to allow your body to soften in order to expand throughout pregnancy as well as prepare for birth.

Normal Swelling in Pregnancy

Normal swelling during pregnancy is most often experienced during the third trimester, when standing or active for long periods of time, in the heat/summer, or when excess sodium or caffeine is consumed. 

Finding Relief for Normal Swelling in Pregnancy

The good news is that while annoying and somewhat "unsightly," swelling in pregnancy is not overly painful and there are several things you can do to find relief. 

  • Rest, lying down
  • Elevate your feet
  • Avoid long periods of standing or sitting down -- take frequent breaks and include stretching
  • Don't cross legs when sitting
  • Drink plenty of water, which will help flush fluids
  • Wear compression socks or tights
  • Limit time spent in the heat
  • Reduce salt (sodium) intake -- check labels; many processed foods contain high amounts of sodium
  • Wear comfortable shoes that aren't too tight across the foot or around the ankle
  • Avoid wearing anything that's tight around the ankles or wrists
  • Reduce caffeine intake
  • Add more potassium to your diet, like bananas, squash, spinach, sweet potatoes, avocados, coconut water
  • Exercise regularly 

Abnormal and Dangerous Swelling in Pregnancy

The above examples of swelling are considered normal in pregnancy. There is also abnormal swelling that can happen in pregnancy, which could be a sign of a serious underlying condition. When swelling is out of the normal range or is accompanied by other symptoms, it's critical to call your OB or midwife right away. Here are abnormal swelling symptoms to be aware of: 

  • Swelling in your face and/or puffiness around your eyes
  • Extreme swelling or sudden swelling in your hands, feet, or ankles
  • Swelling accompanied by a headache that won't go away, vision changes, sudden nausea, stomach, shoulder, or lower back pain, sudden weight gain, or shortness of breath (could signal preeclampsia)
  • Swelling more in one leg than the other, accompanied by pain or tenderness (could signal a blood clot)
  • Swelling accompanied by chest pain or difficulty breathing (could signal heart problems) 

If you're unsure about your swelling and/or accompanying symptoms, it is always best to call your care provider for confirmation. Too often we get caught in second guessing ourselves or feel like our worries are excessive, but it's better to be wrong than be in danger. 



Signs & Symptoms: Preeclampsia Foundation

Swelling During Pregnancy: American Pregnancy Association 

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