by Kaleen Richards, CNM, ARNP
Tree of Life Birth and Gynecology
Swelling in pregnancy has come to be expected, especially during the last trimester when blood volume has increased by 30 percent! It isn’t uncommon for women to be concerned about swollen hands and ankles, although even I, at the end of a hot August day (and NOT pregnant), have tight rings and/or sock lines. While some swelling during pregnancy is considered normal, it can also be an indicator of something more serious. Here are a few warning signs related to pregnancy swelling, as well as some natural remedies to try.
A common misconception about swelling during pregnancy is that it is caused by drinking too much water. That is not the case. Most women are dehydrated vascularly so their body is storing or “third spacing” the water. During pregnancy, a woman needs 64 ounces of water per day, and as much as 12 ounces more during summer months. This is on top of any other fluids you consume during the day; you should consume a minimum of 64 ounces of plain water daily.
Consuming natural diuretics is another way to decrease swollen ankles and hands during pregnancy. Watermelon, cantaloupe, cucumbers and celery are natural diuretics which help the body clear water in tissue from third spacing.
Juicing is a great way to consume more natural diuretics to reduce swelling. One simple juicing recipe is: watermelon with the rind, half an apple, and a celery stalk. Some women also add liquid calcium magnesium to the mix for the additional benefit of venous wall relaxation which decreases blood pressure and helps with the stress and anxiety many women experience as their due date approaches.
Exercising at least three times a week also helps improve swelling, especially in the feet and ankles. During exercise, our body pumps blood through our system and clears fluid that is retained in tissue. The worst swelling often occurs in feet and ankles at the end of the day for women who stand most of the day. Throughout the day, fluid has pooled in the lower or dependent body parts. By taking a walk mid-day or at the end of the day, that fluid redistributes and the swelling reduces.
Finding 20 minutes during the day to prop your feet up, possibly even above your heart, will also help. Some women need compression socks, similar to men’s tube socks, that increase pressure on feet and calves. This pushes the fluid back up and prevents severe swelling that is often painful due to tension on the skin.
There are a few warning signs that could indicate the swelling is more than just normal pregnancy symptoms or “just not feeling right.” These symptoms include facial swelling, especially in the eyes; headaches; and visual changes and could indicate increased blood pressure. Some women experience headaches that are unresolved with rest, eating or Tylenol, and seem to swell overnight. If you experience any of the symptoms above, please call your practitioner right away.
While some swelling during pregnancy is normal, there are a few easy steps to reduce the discomfort it causes. You are the expert on your body; always listen when you sense something is wrong, and definitely contact your health are provider if you ever feel like something even greater is wrong.