Swelling in pregnancy

Pregnancy swelling - or oedema - is a common complaint. But why does it happen and could it be a sign of something more serious?

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If you can’t remember when you last saw your feet or you’re wondering when you’ll next be able to slip your wedding ring onto your finger, you may be suffering from pregnancy swelling.  Also known as oedema, it’s all too common in expectant mums. But for most, it’s just another one of those unglamorous pregnancy annoyances.

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Help! I’ve got cankles! Why? Why? WHY?

Swollen ankles are just another lovely by-product of pregnancy to add to the list – with around 80% of expectant mums experiencing cankles or puffy fingers at some point.

Mum charlm on our forum says, “I’m 34+3 and I have mega cankles lol – my left swells more than the right, and I have days where they don’t go down overnight.”

And GoldenShades says: “My ankles tend to swell a lot and its just one of those things – they usually reduce in size overnight – but generally don’t go completely down.”

So that’s why you may be sporting an attractive pair of cankles for the next few months. Fortunately though (although you may disagree) swelling in pregnancy looks worse than it is and will do no harm to you or your unborn baby.

Swollen ankles shouldn’t hurt and most of us don’t even notice we have them until we sit down at the end of the day and spot them.

I’m only in my 2nd trimester, but already I look like the Michelin Man!

Although swelling is more common in the 3rd trimester, it can happen earlier – particularly if you are on your feet a lot in the day.

“Oedemas tend to happen later in pregnancy because that’s when your uterus grows and the baby grows so you’re carrying more weight and more fluid than in the early stages. It’s unlikely to happen much earlier than the 2nd trimester though,” says Katie.

Oh, OK – so when should I worry, then?

“If you experience itching as well as the swelling, it could be a complication linked to your liver, so be sure to report it to your doctor or midwife,” says Katie.

Swelling can also be a sign of pre-eclampsia, so if you’re worried, or have any of the following symptoms, again speak to your doctor or GP. They will always take your puffiness seriously and will be able to put your mind at rest with a quick urine sample to determine if it’s anything more serious than pregnancy swelling.

For keen MFM forum-poster Rosapenny, swelling was a sign of pre-eclampsia, “I was diagnosed at 35 weeks. I had high blood pressure, protein in my urine, swelling all over and floating black spots in front of my eyes…”.

Signs of pre-eclampsia include:

  • Headaches
  • Swelling of the face
  • Sudden swelling
  • Visual disturbance
  • Pain

How can I de-puff my cankles?

Midwife Katie advises patients with swollen feet to avoid standing for long periods of time and also recommends that they always lie down or sleep on their left hand side in order to reduce puffiness.

And scottie took this advice: “Mine started swelling started around 23 weeks 🙁 although my m/w isn’t concerned as I have no protein in urine, BP normal and the swelling goes down overnight.

“She said it probably was because I have a desk job so sat still for most of day, so has recommended ankle exercises (flexing foot back and forth, and circles) every so often, increased water intake etc and keep them elevated as much as possible.

“Have to admit they’re much better at the weekend when I’m more mobile.”

Any more suggestions on how best to deflate?

Yep. Try these:

Put your feet up and rest When you sit down, make sure you and your bump are well supported to protect your back and raise your feet up on a pillow or footrest.

Drink loads Staying hydrated is advisable during pregnancy anyway. But drinking plenty of water can also flush out your system and help you de-puff. Have a bottle handy that you can sip throughout the day, rather than downing a glass when you remember.

Cut down on salt This can make your body retain water so try to avoid salty food or adding extra to food.

Wear loose clothes Tight-fitting shoes and socks, and high heels won’t do you any favours, so use it as an excuse to be comfy!

Stay active Gentle exercise and stretching can help prevent oedema occurring in the first place. Try some gentle pregnancy yoga or pilates, walking or swimming.

Wear flight socks But speak to your doctor or midwife about these as it’s important to wear the right size for them to be effective.

Will pregnancy swelling go? And if so, WHEN?!

“Yes, once you have the baby, your body gets rid of any excess fluid it’s been holding. That’s why new mums go to the toilet a lot after giving birth!” says Katie.

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