Pregnant woman swollen feet

Swollen feet and ankles during pregnancy

If you find your ankles, feet or fingers starting to balloon towards the end of pregnancy you’re not alone. Swelling (or oedema as it is medically known) affects at least half of all women in later pregnancy and is especially common in the third trimester.

You’ll find that, especially in the evening and in hot weather, your ankles and feet may look puffy and the skin feel tight. There are things you can do to help prevent or reduce the swelling, but if it is excessive or happens suddenly, you should contact your midwife or doctor.

Why do your feet and ankles swell when you’re pregnant?

Your body retains more fluid than usual when you’re pregnant, especially in hot weather. This fluid ‘pools’ in your extremities, particularly in your feet and ankles if you’ve been standing for long periods.

When does swelling start during pregnancy?

Swelling tends to occur most in the third trimester because, as your baby gets bigger, more pressure is put on the blood vessels in the pelvis and in turn on the vena cava, the large vein that goes down your right hand side and accepts blood from your legs. This slows circulation, causing the blood to pool, the pressure of which forces water in the body downwards and out through the capillaries into the tissues in your feet and ankles.

Can you prevent swollen feet and ankles?

Probably not entirely, but you may be able to lessen its effects. Try the following:

  • Eat a balanced diet, including lots of fruit and veg and cut down on salt, sugar and fats to avoid excessive weight gain. Salt particularly causes fluid retention so cut down on processed foods, which tend to be very salty.
  • Foods that are high in vitamins C and E such as nuts, citrus fruit and fresh vegetables, help the body to deal with inflammation, so stock up on those.
  • Although it sounds like the last thing you should do, drinking more water will help.
  • Try to take regular exercise and generally keep the area moving by rotating your feet both ways every now and then when sitting down, and taking regular breaks from your desk to have a walk around.
  • Don’t sit with your legs crossed and try to raise your feet up a little when sitting down.

Can complementary therapies help swollen ankles?

Flight socks helped me, they also make maternity socks which do the same thing basically.

There are a few things that some women swear have helped reduce an ankle with the look of a pig’s trotter to something more resembling a human foot.

Reflexology

You get to put your feet up for an hour and have a jolly nice massage. This can only do some good, we’d have thought. The jury is out on exactly how effective reflexology is, but it’s certainly not going to do any harm. Do always use a reflexologist who is qualified to treat women in pregnancy.

Aromatherapy

It’s believed some essential oils, such as cypress, might improve circulation. Again, always find a fully qualified therapist and make sure they know you are pregnant, as not all oils will be suitable.

Storecupboard solution

Cabbage compress for swollen ankles

Cabbage (just bog standard white or green – none of your high-falutin’ cavolo nero stuff, please) is said to have properties that will draw out excess fluid. Straight from the fridge, wrap them around any swollen bits as a compress. Leave until they are soggy then replace with new ones. Repeat until the swelling is reduced (or you can no longer stand the smell).

How can I reduce swelling in my wrists and hands?

Swelling in this area can occasionally be a sign of something more serious (see below) so do keep an eye on it, but it is almost as common as swollen ankles. Many a woman in her third trimester has had to squeeze off her rings with the aid of a bar of Imperial Leather for fear of having to have them cut off at a later date.
Swelling in the hands is often worse at night, especially if you’re accidentally lying on one arm in your sleep.

If it is severe, it can sometimes cause carpal tunnel syndrome, where you get tingling and numbness in the hand. See your midwife if this is the case as they can refer you for physiotherapy or give you splints to wear in bed to help. It’s hard to know whether the splint is more or less alluring as a bedtime accessory than the swelling itself.
You can also try alternating hot and cold compresses on the area with frozen peas and a hot water bottle to reduce the swelling a bit.

When should you worry about swelling in pregnancy?

Although swelling is common and usually nothing to worry about, you should always call your midwife if it comes on suddenly, particularly in the face, feet or hands.
Swelling in these areas can sometimes be a sign of pre-eclampsia, a pregnancy-related condition that can be harmful to you and your baby.
Other signs of pre-eclampsia include:

You’re more likely to suffer from pre-eclampsia if:

  • You’re over 40
  • There’s a family history of oedema
  • This is your first baby, or your last pregnancy was 10 years ago or more
  • Your BMI is over 30
  • You’re having twins or more
  • You had high blood pressure or kidney disease before pregnancy
Pre-eclampsia check pregnant woman

You should also seek further advice if you notice that the swelling is only in one leg or your calf seems red and lumpy, as this can be a sign of a blood clot.

What Mumsnetters say about swollen feet and ankles in pregnancy

“I remember wearing flip flops at the end of October! More than anything I hate having fat feet!”

“I bought some Epsom salts and soak my feet every night, which seems to help. When they're particularly bad I then put them up on the back of the sofa and after 20 minutes or so they’ve gone down. Sleeping with my feet raised on pillows also helps.”

“Can't get my rings on and my feet look like they've been blown up with a bicycle pump. I bought ballet slippers a size up, and now I can't even fit into them… I get over half an inch of foot fat oozing over the top when I squeeze them in…it looks so gross.”

Compare notes on puffy with other pregnant women on the Talk Boards