Baby talk: Tips for avoiding swelling feet while pregnant

March 25, 2014 

Q: I am in the fifth month of my pregnancy and all of sudden my feet are swollen. I have been told it is normal. How can it be normal to have swollen feet?

A: When a woman is pregnant she produces 50 percent more blood and body fluids to meet the needs of her growing baby.

This extra fluid also allows her body to soften and expand as the baby grows inside of her. Swelling or edema (excessive amount of fluid in body tissue) is usually noticed in the pregnant woman's hands, ankles and feet. It usually comes on gradually.

If it is a sudden edema, edema in only one leg, you have a headache, your face is swollen, you need to call your doctor, right away, so they can make sure you are not becoming preeclamptic.

Preeclampsia is when a pregnant woman's blood pressure goes up, she has edema that does not go away, and she has large amounts of protein in her urine.

The reason it is dangerous is because it can prevent the placenta, which is the baby's life line, from getting enough blood to fully nourish the baby. It can also cause the mother to have seizures.

Most women do very well with good medical and nursing management of preeclampsia and have healthy babies. However it is one of the leading causes of women dying during the childbearing years.

If what you are experiencing is edema that is considered normal during pregnancy, there are several things you can do to minimize your discomfort. Elevating your feet when sitting will help the fluid from pooling in your feet. When you sleep, lay on your left side, with a pillow between your legs to support your legs.

The reason why sleeping on your left side is beneficial is because the vena cava, one of the largest blood vessels that carries blood back to the heart is on the right side of your body.

Lying on your left side takes undue pressure off the vena cava and it works more efficiently. Try not to cross your legs when you are sitting.

Of course, as your baby grows and your abdomen expands it becomes harder and harder to cross your legs.

Short walks, stretching your legs by flexing your feet towards your face, rotating your ankles and wiggling your toes, wearing comfortable shoes, wearing maternity support hose, drinking plenty of water and avoiding constrictive socks or stockings will also help.

If you have access to a pool, and it is warm, the water will help take the pressure off your body and allow for better circulation.

There is some data that suggests that taking a calcium supplement, 2 Grams, may also help, but that is up to your doctor whether or not he or she thinks that will help you.

After you have your baby you may find you sweat more than usual for a couple of weeks. That is your body getting rid of all that excess fluid it needed while you were pregnant. It is kind of like a preview of menopause.

Growing a baby puts all kind of stress on your body that at any other time would be alarming. That is why keeping your prenatal appointments with your doctor or midwife is so very important. They will do everything they can to keep you and your baby healthy.

Katie Powers, R.N., is a board-certified lactation consultant and perinatal educator at Manatee Memorial Hospital's Family BirthPlace. Her column appears every other week in Healthy Living.

Contact her at

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