Pregnancy is a wonderful time, but it’s a time full of many physical changes, too. With your body preparing you for what’s to come, you can, of course, expect your belly to swell up. However, what you may not expect are the other parts of your body that will do the same. While sore and swollen limbs during pregnancy are common, there are ways that you can alleviate these symptoms so that you can get through these months as comfortably as possible.
Why do you swell up during pregnancy?
Jaime McFaden, Aaptiv master trainer, health coach, and pre-and-post natal specialist, explains that it’s completely normal to experience swelling during pregnancy. “Your body is drastically changing [and] hormones are shifting. You’re producing more fluid in your body than ever before so [that] your body can soften and make room for baby.” In fact, 20 percent of your healthy weight gain during pregnancy actually comes from this increase in fluid. Rochelle Moncourtois, Aaptiv master trainer and author adds, “Your uterus is growing, which puts pressure on your veins. This then impairs blood flow return to your heart.”
Common areas of swelling are your legs, feet, and ankles. This is especially true if you’re prone to standing or walking around for long periods of time. Your hands, including your fingers and wrists, as well as your face can also swell up.
In addition to limb swelling, Dahlas Fletcher, a pregnancy and post natal exercise specialist, says, “It’s not uncommon to experience cramps during pregnancy, particularly in the 3rd trimester. Many pregnant women also experience some form of muscle spasms in their legs, with cramping being more frequent whilst sleeping.” There are several reasons why this is the case. Fletcher lists some as:
- Additional natural weight gain of pregnancy.
- Changes in your circulation with pressure from the growing baby on your nerves and blood vessels.
- Mineral/electrolyte deficiency, particularly with magnesium and potassium.
- Limited movement and postural changes.
Minimizing and/or Preventing Swelling
There are many prenatal exercises that can prevent and relieve swelling. Moncourtois recommends, “taking a brisk walk outside or on a treadmill” as a way to reduce swelling. It helps to raise the heart rate, which will promote circulation around the body. This can assist in getting those fluids, especially in your feet, moving again. Stretching and foam rolling also works to relieve this pregnancy symptom by improving circulation in the swollen limbs. As Fletcher says, even just spending five to ten minutes every day stretching and moving can make a difference.
She also adds, “During pregnancy (and postpartum), improving your mobility and posture can also help to take the pressure off your legs and hips. Focus on correct alignment. Start with simply shifting your shoulders above your ribs.” Don’t limit these movements to just during your exercises, but also incorporate them throughout your day-to-day life.
Moncourtois also recommends other low-impact exercises, such as “riding a stationary bike or doing laps in a pool.” As long as you’re choosing safe and effective exercises to do during pregnancy, you’ll notice an improvement in your circulation. This, in turn, can alleviate aches and pains that you may be experiencing.
Take a break.
“Putting your legs up and taking breaks when standing can help, as well,” explains McFaden. Elevate your legs above heart level to help encourage the extra fluid to go back towards the heart and promote more circulation around the rest of the body. The end result? Relieved pressure from your feet and ankles. Plus, it’ll also give you some much-deserved rest time!
Track your nutrition.
What you eat can make a difference to any pregnancy swelling. You don’t need to follow any special diet, but just eat a well-balanced one. “Potassium and magnesium are both considered key minerals that your body needs. These minerals are known as electrolytes and influence the volume of water in your body and your pH levels,” says Fletcher. “A natural way to improve these levels are to eat bananas, as they’re high in potassium. Also, drink unsweetened coconut water which is naturally full of electrolytes and minerals.”
Limit your caffeine and sodium intake while increasing your water. The more water you drink, the less water you retain, so make sure that you’re drinking enough water. What is “enough” varies from person to person, so simply use the urine test. If your urine is pale in color, then you’re hydrated. If it’s more on the yellow side, then you should start drinking more water.
Massage and add light pressure.
Other ways that you can help alleviate the swelling includes wearing supportive compression stockings and socks, which can provide relief for cramping, aches, and leg pain. By adding pressure to your legs, it encourages more blood flow.
Fletcher also suggests having a regular massage by a certified pregnancy massage therapist. A little bit of pampering time never hurt anybody!
While swelling is normal during pregnancy, persistent pain is not. If it becomes painful, see a doctor immediately. This will help rule out any serious concerns, like a blood clot. While normal swelling may be annoying to experience, McFaden says to “Listen to your body and be kind to yourself mamas! You’re creating a human.”