Swelling of the ankles, feet and hands—also known as edema—frequently occurs after 20 weeks gestation, as changes in blood chemistry and increased water retention leave excess fluid to collect in the tissues. This necessary side effect softens the body for expansion and birth, but several factors—like July’s heat—can exacerbate symptoms and leave you rather uncomfortable. Fortunately, small lifestyle changes can achieve big results.
[Do] Nourish your sole. We know staying off your feet can be nearly impossible, so when lounge time proves elusive, make an effort to choose comfortable shoes. Take our advice and invest in a pair of supportive flats along with some loose pants and shirts to avoid adding pressure to the blood flow around wrists and ankles. If a job or activity requires maintaining the same position (sitting or standing) for more than a brief period of time, break it up with short walks or stretches. Try to keep a chair nearby and get sneaky about creating time to prop your feet (above your heart if at all possible). At the end of the day, chill out by adding some ice packs to those overworked ankles or indulging in a foot massage—a pleasant means of stimulating arterial flow!
[Don’t] Overdo it. If you’re prone to swelling, try to avoid activities that are likely to leave you uncomfortable, such as an all-day shopping excursion. Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, pretty much any normal activity, such as walking, is fine—and even beneficial in many cases. But moderation is key when you’re dealing with edema. Be sure to know your limits and call it quits before swelling becomes excessive and leaves you miserable for the rest of the night.
[Do] Suit yourself. Stay indoors as much as possible—since heat increases swelling— and when you do find yourself outside, hop in the pool. Consider a water aerobics class for the benefits of hydrotherapy (the tendency of water to cause the kidneys to shed excess fluids). Immersing yourself at shoulder-level also provides support for the uterus while your circulatory system benefits from the cardiovascular activity—all while keeping you cool.
[Don’t] Wake up on the right side of the bed. Wake up on the left instead—a growing uterus puts pressure on pelvic veins and the vena cava, the vein that carries blood from the lower body to the heart. This pressure slows blood return from the legs, causing the blood to pool and fluid to move from your veins into your feet and ankles. Since the vena cava resides on your right side, try to snooze on your left to give the mothership of blood flow a much needed break.
[Do] Feed the need. It may go against logic, but with regards to nutrition, reducing your salt intake does not control edema. In fact, your body’s reaction to a depletion of salt mimics that of an overload, so maintaining moderation is your best bet. You should also add calcium to your diet with foods like bananas, bran wheat, tomato sauce (a good excuse to eat pizza!), nuts, seeds and dried fruit mixes. If you haven’t already, cut out caffeine altogether—and always, always stay hydrated.
Of course, no matter what steps are taken, it’s unrealistic to expect your body to shed the additional 50 percent of fluids it carries until a week or two after giving birth. Once your kidneys and pores begin the elimination process, expect frequent trips to the bathroom and increased sweat- ing (symptoms you’re probably already familiar with in the third trimester of pregnancy, only they’re occurring for a different reason postpartum). Soon enough, you’ll be back to normal. Well, almost.