Swelling is common in pregnancy. In fact, in one of the largest studies ever done on pregnant women, it was shown that among the women who did not develop pre-eclampsia, those who had some swelling had healthier pregnancies than women who did not. Do you need to swell to have a good outcome? Of course not……but, this study showed that some swelling in pregnancy is a sign of normal pregnancy. Swelling, called edema by doctors and midwives, is caused by fluid moving from inside the blood vessels (the intravascular space) to the space which surrounds the body’s cells (the interstitial space).

Swelling can be associated with toxemia/pre-eclampsia. However, a fair amount of the effort that goes into prenatal care (especially towards the end of pregnancy) is directed at early diagnosis and treatment of pre-eclampsia. If you have some swelling, mention it to your doctor or midwife. Most of the time, swelling is not a sign of pre-eclampsia.

Swelling usually occurs most notably in the hands and feet. You may feel your fingers tightening around your rings, or feel your shoes getting a bit tight. Some women may have profound swelling, especially in the feet. Hot weather usually makes the problem worse.

What can one do about swelling? Drink more fluids……even though it may seem that the problem is too much fluid, your body has a normal mechanism which saves fluid when there’s too little fluid coming in. You can also immerse your body in water…..that is, in a hot-tub (temperature below 100-degrees F!!!) or a swimming pool. When you immerse yourself in water, you mostly cancel out the effects of gravity, AND the water exerts a mild counter-pressure on your skin. If you must stand for long periods of time, try to take breaks which allow you to elevate your feet and legs……lie down if possible and prop your feet up with pillows or blankets. Don’t stand for more than 45 minutes out of an hour without taking a break to elevate your feet. Again, get some comfortable, wide shoes.

Swelling can be associated with toxemia/pre-eclampsia. Your doctor or midwife should be able to tell you if your swelling is normal or not. Major components of proper prenatal care are designed to identify the signs and symptoms of toxemia/pre-eclampsia before it becomes a major problem. If you swelling and you experience severe headaches, visual disturbances, or a pain in the upper abdomen, you should call your doctor or midwife.