Coping with swollen ankles in pregnancy

Why you get swollen ankles in pregnancy, how to deal with them, and when to consult your GP

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“It’s normal to experience swelling of the feet, legs and hands – otherwise known as oedema – during pregnancy as the weight gain can put a strain on the circulation,” says senior podiatrist Junaid Ahmed, from Feet4Life.

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“Your growing womb puts pressure on the vena cava (the main vein that carries blood back to your heart from your lower limbs). “This reduces the blood flow back to the heart, which causes a pool of blood,” explains Pamper Parenting Village Expert and midwife Mary Steen. “This causes a loss of fluid from the capillaries (tiny blood vessels), which leak out into the tissue of the feet and around the ankles. This would usually have been absorbed but because it hasn’t, that’s what causes the swelling,” says Mary.

Is the swelling normal?    

“Around 80% of women suffer from it, and it’s usually nothing to worry about, if a little uncomfortable,” says midwife Mary, but if you notice a sudden development of swelling in your face, hands or feet, or puffiness around your eyes, see your midwife or doctor. These could be symptoms of pre-eclampsia.

Can it be dangerous?

As swollen ankles (along with other symptoms) can be a sign of pre-eclampsia, your midwife or GP will always take your concerns about the puffiness seriously if you flag it up with them, so if you have any worries at all about the amount of swelling you have, consult your care givers straight away. If they are worried about pre-eclampsia they will give you a simple urine test to rule it out  (your urine will also be routinely checked throughout your pregnancy).

If you test negative for pre-eclampsia, the swelling is just a byproduct of the extra baby weight and fluid retention that comes with pregnancy. Your midwife or GP might refer to the swelling as ‘oedema’ and note it as such in your records.   

Does every pregnant woman get swollen ankles?

“Every pregnant woman is different, but with the majority of women gaining, on average, 12.5kg during their pregnancy, there’s a strong chance you might,” says Margarita Atieh, from The Baby Planner

“My feet were so swollen, they looked like pigs trotters – and I had cankles!” says MFM user Leanne McLoughlin.

Oedma nearly always looks worse than it actually is, which is little comfort when your ankles or legs seem so inflated, and although it will disappear of its own accord,  it can stick around for a while after the birth of your baby. 

How to deal with swollen ankles in pregnancy

“Make sure you put your feet up at every possible moment, “ says podiatrist Junaid Ahmed. “Stretch your legs often and try not to sit for long periods of time. Rotate your ankles, stretch your calves and toes.”

Another important factor is appropriate footwear! “During your pregnancy, it’s very important to wear sensible shoes, such as sandals or breathable footwear, as this will allow your feet to breathe,” advises midwife Mary. “Avoid anything tight around your ankle area – like straps, tight socks and bands,” adds podiatrist Junaid. And although you might be tempted to slob about in Uggs, or battle through in your stilletos, they are a big no-no!

Keeping your fluid levels up is also imperative when it comes to dealing with oedema and swelling – this is advisable generally in pregnancy, but drinking water also helps flush your system through and can actually help to guard against water retention (drink it steadily through the day rather than over-filling in one sitting.)  Eating less salt can also be beneficial, as it can make your body retain water.

Other pregnancy foot complaints:

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