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Edema (swollen feet and ankles) when pregnant

Edema, commonly known as swelling, when excess fluids collect in your tissues, is incredibly common during pregnancy, and often affects the feet and ankles, making getting around a bit difficult or painful. Edema of the feet and ankles is most common during the third trimester, and fades rather quickly after delivery as your body rids itself of all excess fluids. Mild swelling in the feet and hands is perfectly normal, but excessive or sudden swelling could be a sign of preeclampsia, so you should seek medical advice if you notice any extreme swelling.

What causes it?

There a number of factors that could contribute to edema in expectant moms. Pregnant women retain more water than usual, and your expanding uterus applies pressure to your pelvic veins, and the vena cava, which results in slower blood flow back from the legs, and pooling of the fluid near your feet.


Because the swelling is simply fluid pooling in your veins, it is important to keep your swollen feet elevated above your heart- this might help drain some of the blood back to your heart. Exercising, and ironically, drinking water, can help your body deal with the swelling in your feet. Compression socks and decreasing your sodium intake may also be beneficial. If not too painful, exercise can also help with the discomfort. If swelling appears in only one leg, check in with a healthcare provider, as this could be a sign of a blood clot.

Reviewed by Dr. Jamie Lo
Read more
  • N A Segal, E R Boyer, P Teran-Yangle, N Glass, H Hillstrom, H John Yack. “Pregnancy Leads to Lasting Changes in Foot Structure.” American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation. 92(3): 232-240. Web. 3/13/2015.
  • Roger W. Harms, M.D. “What causes ankle swelling during pregnancy – and what can I do about it?” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, 8/5/2014. Web.
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