An alarming or normal finding in pregnancy is edema. It is a known fact that some form of swelling of a woman’s ankle and feet is to be expected when she is pregnant, but it is also important to know when that becomes life threatening. The body undergoes a dilutional effect in pregnancy, where one’s red blood cells increases by about 30% and your volume rises 50%, which also leads to anemia. This occurs because the woman’s body needs to produce adequate amounts of nutrients, fluid, plasma, etc. for her growing fetus as well. Edema is the normal swelling process of the hands, feet, legs, face and ankles.  Extra fluid retention due to edema allows the body to soften and protect the fetus from too much shock, similar to what the amniotic fluid does as well. Pelvic joints utilize the extra fluids to allow the baby to be born. And it is this extra fluid which accounts for 25% of the weight gain in women during pregnancy.

Usually swelling during pregnancy becomes noticeable around the fifth month; however, it can occur at any time during the pregnancy. Moreover, the swelling increases for most all women in their third trimester. These are some noticeable reasons why this occurs:

  • Heat in the summer – body retains fluids
  • Prolonged periods of standing
  • Days which are long and active
  • Low potassium diet – body may have an imbalance of electrolytes
  • High caffeine consumption – dehydrated cells may pull water
  • High sodium intake – canned foods, potato chips

When a pregnant woman notices sudden swelling, meaning in an area where there was not previous swelling is accompanied by sudden swelling (i.e. hands or face), she should seek immediate medical attention. Sudden swelling may be a sign of an allergic reaction or something worse like preeclampsia.

To avoid swelling and/or temporarily relieve typical swelling during pregnancy, some foods may help:

  • Fruits
    • Especially bananas
  • Low sodium diet
  • Small amount of regular proteins.
    • Lean meat
    • Poultry
    • Eggs
    • Beans
  • Vegetables
  • Food high in vitamin C
    • Strawberries
    • Peppers (greenand red)
    • Melons
    • Potatoes
    • Tomatoes
    • Cabbage broccoli
  • Food high in vitamin E
    • Vegetable oils
      • Corn
      • Soy
      • Wheatgerm
    • Sunflower seeds
    • Sweetcorn
    • Cashews
    • Almonds
    • Corn oil.

Other modifications for improving swelling are:

  • Avoid prolonged standing
  • Minimize time spent in hot environments
  • When you are resting, elevate your feet (this will bring volume back to your heart quicker and then it won’t pool in your extremities – better circulation)
  • Wear comfortable shoes
  • When wearing shoes or walking around, wear supportive tights or stockings
  • Swimming is a great form of exercise and relaxation
  • Cold compressor use on swollen
  • Avoid tight fitting clothes around the wrists or ankles
  • Hydration helps flush out volume
  • Reduce sodium intake to only what is needed and have salty foods with plenty of water.

Some signs that should raise an alarm are:

  • If the swelling moves up the calf while leaving an indentation when pressed
  • If the swelling is sudden or severe in the face, hands, or feet
  • If it is in your third trimester and severe
  • If it occurs in one leg and is red, tender and lumpy
    • Symptoms of a blood clot in your vein → thrombosis
  • If swelling is in your wrists or hands
    • Carpal tunnel → swelling compressing the median nerve.

Women residing in Denver should visit the Denver Holistic center for more information to better understand this change which occurs during pregnancy. Edema is a natural biological process which may also be a process indicating an underlying disease process which may be lethal to the fetus and mother.