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Pregnancy can cause a lot of changes to occur in your body. You will notice some changes occurring in your feet throughout pregnancy.
When pregnant, you may notice that your legs and feet become more swollen. The swelling may get worse as the pregnancy progresses.
Let’s break down the details on everything you need to know about swollen feet during pregnancy and what you can do about it.
What Causes Feet Swelling During Pregnancy?
When you are carrying a baby, blood volume in your body increases. The blood volume in your body increases the further you are along in your pregnancy. This can increase fluid retention in your legs and feet, causing your feet to swell.
Relaxin, the reproductive hormone present in your body can cause relaxation of the ligaments, tendons, and joints in your body in preparation for birth. This can cause your feet to not only be swollen but flatten a bit. You may also notice that your feet have gotten slightly longer and wider.
Swelling in the legs and feet can be increased if you have a job where you need to stand or sit for prolonged periods. Your veins have valves in them that help push blood back up to the heart.
If you are standing or sitting for a long time, it is difficult for the veins to push blood back up to your heart.
Also, as your baby gets bigger, your baby will start to compress the veins in your body, making it difficult for blood to return from the legs back to your heart.
Who Is at Risk for Feet Swelling During Pregnancy?
People with a history of Preeclampsia
Preeclampsia is a complication of pregnancy that causes a sudden rise in blood pressure and leakage of protein in the urine. Capillary leaking (1) can occur which results in fluid retention and swelling in the feet.
Obesity increases your risk for preeclampsia, which can cause your feet to swell during pregnancy. Increased body mass index (BMI) in pregnant women can also affect the arch and length of your foot (4).
History of Venous insufficiency
Some people have problems with their legs swelling daily due to decreased ability of the veins to pump blood back to the heart. If you have developed varicose veins as a result of this, your swelling during pregnancy may be worse.
History of a blood clots
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is when a blood clot forms in your leg veins. Women who are pregnant are 5 times more likely to get a DVT (2). This is due to the body’s reduced ability to pump blood from the legs back to the heart.
The biggest risk factor for a blood clot is a history of a blood clot. If you’re pregnant, it’s important to keep an eye on your feet and check for sudden leg swelling. If you experience pain in your calf, redness, or swelling on one leg, you could have a DVT and should contact your doctor immediately.
With advanced maternal age, veins lose valve patency and vessel tone (5). This means that the veins are less efficient at pumping blood back to the heart. This can increase swelling in your feet during pregnancy.
Changes You May See in Your Foot Structure During Pregnancy
Increased length and width of your feet
The amount of retained body water by full-term pregnancy averages about 6.5 liters (3). Yikes! This fluid comes from the fetus, the uterus, the breast tissue, the placenta, and extracellular fluid. These plus hormones will cause your feet to get larger and wider.
However, it is also suggested that an increase in fat accumulation causes your feet to become larger as well. After pregnancy, fluid retention in the body is reduced, however not by 100%.
This suggests that although your feet may become smaller after pregnancy, they will never be the same as before pregnancy. This could be due to fat accumulation in the feet.
Arch collapse of your feet
As previously mentioned, arch collapse occurs due to the relaxation of your foot joints, tendons, and ligaments. However, increased fluid retention can also cause it to collapse further.
Pressure point changes in your feet
Due to feet swelling and arch collapse, you may start to bear more weight on the back part of your feet. This can cause heel pain and ankle pain.
If you want to read more about heel pain you can check out my blog post Top 5 Reasons Your Heel Hurts From Walking.
Compression stockings can be a lifesaver to help with swelling in the feet! However, you will want to make sure that you obtain stockings that are appropriate size and strength.
As far as the strength of stockings, 15-20mmHg or 20-30mmHg should suffice. Imagine squeezing a blood pressure cuff to those numbers. That’s how much pressure you should feel in your ankles from the stockings.
However, some brands online may not have the appropriate compression even though they may be advertised as such.
I prefer the Jobst Activewear 20-30mmHg compression stockings. Make sure that you measure your ankle and calf circumference to find out your exact size before ordering.
You should wear the stockings during the day, and remove them at night. You can wash them and reuse them.
One pair of stockings is usually good for 6 months of compression as long as they are appropriately handled.
Increase physical activity
Compression plus increased physical exercise has been shown to reduce edema in pregnant women (6). As long as it’s approved by your doctor, taking a brisk walk can help to reduce swelling.
Swelling in the feet increases the longer you stand in one spot, and the longer you sit with your legs hanging down. The more you can move your legs, the better. This will help promote blood flow back to your heart.
A prenatal massage can help promote circulation and reduce swelling. It also helps with relaxation. This is a win-win solution.
Change your sleeping position
You will want to try to sleep on your left side. This will prevent pressure on a major vein in your back called the “Inferior Vena Cava”. Sleeping on your left side prevents compression of the vein and allows the blood to flow back to the heart more easily.
Reduce sodium intake
Reducing salt intake can help significantly in relieving swelling in pregnancy. Make sure you are avoiding adding excess salt to dishes. Check nutrition labels regularly.
Drink more water
When your body is dehydrated, it tries to hold onto fluid. Drinking more water actually can reduce swelling in the legs and the feet. Make sure you drink about 8 to 10 glasses of water a day.
Read more about How Dehydration Can Cause Your Feet To Swell.
Elevate your feet
Make sure to elevate your feet regularly when pregnant. You can use two pillows underneath your feet to keep them elevated. This will help to reduce swelling in your legs.
Perform cool foot soaks using Epsom salts
Epsom salt breaks down into magnesium and sulfate when in water. This can help relax your joints and muscles. You can soak your feet comfortably in cool water as the cool sensation causes your blood vessels to constrict. This can help with foot swelling.
However, make sure the water is not too cold! Especially if you have neuropathy.
Don’t be afraid to buy new shoes that will properly support your feet during pregnancy. You may even have to buy a couple of pairs of shoes throughout your pregnancy as your shoe size will get larger as your pregnancy progresses.
Make sure you go to a running shoe store or your foot doctor to have your feet measured. You may want to get your feet measured during all three trimesters. Your foot doctor can also give you recommendations on what shoes may be best for your foot structure.
If you have arch or heel pain, you may benefit from an orthotic that can give you additional support.
If you are looking for an orthotic you can buy online, I highly recommend the Powerstep Protech Orthotics.
Powersteps makes a variety of great insoles, but the Powerstep Protech in particular is great for arch support. Unlike some other brands, the arch is firm and supportive, but is still quite comfortable to walk on.
Also, this insert has a deep heel cup (see below), which helps with heel stability when walking.
In addition, there is a cushion on the heel made up of “poron”. This added cushion helps with shock absorption and helps with heel pain.
Pro-tip: Make sure you remove your shoe liners before you put the inserts in your shoes. If your shoe liners are glued or stitched into your shoes, don’t worry about ripping them off. If the shoe liners are stitched in, they usually are thin enough to stay in the shoe.
Also, make sure your shoes can fit these inserts in them. Like with any insert, they will take up room in your shoes.
Although these inserts do great with a wide variety of shoes, they are not meant to be worn in dress shoes or very shallow, narrow shoes.
Depending on how much you walk while wearing these inserts, they can last 6 months to 1 year. You will know when it is time to replace the inserts when you feel the arch start to collapse.
Read about How Bad Shoes Can Cause Foot Pain.
In conclusion, swelling in the feet can be so uncomfortable and stressful. Just know that in most cases, this is a natural occurrence with pregnancy. Some women experiencing more swelling in their feet than others.
Make sure to treat the swelling in your feet with these proven solutions so that it doesn’t get worse. It’s best to address the problem sooner rather than later.
Now that you know what changes you can expect to see in your feet, you can take action to keep yourself comfortable.
Did you have issues with swollen feet during pregnancy? How did you treat it? I would love to hear your thoughts!
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- August, Phyllis MD, Sibai, Baha MD. (2022). Preeclampsia: Clinical features and diagnosis. UpToDate. Available from https://lib.dmu.edu/db/uptodate/cite
- Devis, P., & Knuttinen, M. G. (2017). Deep venous thrombosis in pregnancy: incidence, pathogenesis and endovascular management. Cardiovascular diagnosis and therapy, 7(Suppl 3), S309–S319. https://doi.org/10.21037/cdt.2017.10.08
- Alvarez, R., Stokes, I. A., Asprinio, D. E., Trevino, S., & Braun, T. (1988). Dimensional changes of the feet in pregnancy. J Bone Joint Surg Am, 70(2), 271-4.https://www.uvm.edu/~istokes/pdfs/footdim.pdf
- Chiou, W. K., Chiu, H. T., Chao, A. S., Wang, M. H., & Chen, Y. L. (2015). The influence of body mass on foot dimensions during pregnancy. Applied Ergonomics, 46, 212-217.https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Yi-Lang-Chen/publication/265176097_The_influence_of_body_mass_on_foot_dimensions_during_pregnancy/links/59dc38e0aca2728e20184048/The-influence-of-body-mass-on-foot-dimensions-during-pregnancy.pdf
- Ponnapula, P., & Boberg, J. S. (2010). Lower extremity changes experienced during pregnancy. The Journal of foot and ankle surgery, 49(5), 452-458.https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Priya-Sundararajan-2/publication/333118039_Lower_Extremity_Changes_Experienced_During_Pregnancy/links/5cdc549292851c4eaba36462/Lower-Extremity-Changes-Experienced-During-Pregnancy.pdf
- Ochalek, K., Pacyga, K., Curyło, M., Frydrych–Szymonik, A., & Szygula, Z. (2017). Risk factors related to lower limb edema, compression, and physical activity during pregnancy: a retrospective study. Lymphatic research and biology, 15(2), 166-171.http://klosetraining.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Risk-Factors-Pregnancy-Lymphedema-CDT.pdf
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