Coping with swelling during pregnancy

Dr. Meghana Reddy, Senior Consultant – Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Columbia Asia Hospital Whitefield

Pregnancy, a much-awaited time for women who want to experience motherhood is period of great joy and satisfaction. During those 9 months, the foetus develops within the mother’s uterus until it is ready to be born into the world.The body experiences many changes during this time and each woman goes through pregnancy differently. It is common for a mother to experience certain discomforts while the body develops in order to accommodate the growth of the foetus – a common side effect of pregnancy is swelling in the body. This is also called edema. Often, expecting mothers notice that their face, hands or feet have become a little puffy during the first trimester, and this may increase during the second and third trimesters.

Why does this happen?  

Swelling occurs because of a change in the hormones and increased production of fluid in the body to support the growing baby. It is more common to have swollen feet or ankles during the second trimester as the excessive fluid tends to move downwards due to gravity. As the uterus grows to accommodate the foetus and internal organs are pushed around, there is extra pressure put on the veins which make it difficult to deliver blood back to the heart.

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Tips to ease symptoms of swelling:

  • Avoid standing for a long time in one place or one position
  • Ensure that you wear comfortable footwear, nothing tight or restrictive
  • Exercise regularly – do stretches, yoga, walking, swimming etc
  • Avoid being in the heat for too long as that can exacerbate the swelling
  • Drink plenty of fluids so that body remains hydrated. When there isn’t enough water intake, the body might become dehydrated and retain even more fluid as a result
  • Keep the legs elevated when sitting or sleeping and avoid any postures that tend to cut of circulation in the legs
  • Sleep on the left side of your body to help reduce stress on your heart
  • Massages or foot reflexology where pressure is applied to parts of the feet and ankles can help ease the pain. Simple massages can be done at home also with a partner to improve blood circulation
  • Diet can also play in a role in swelling. Eat a well-balanced diet with a good mic of the right vitamins and minerals
  • Avoid sodium – cut down on salt in your food
  • Do not eat too much of processed foods
  • Consume food high in potassium such as bananas, spinach, beetroot, beans, potatoes
  • Avoid caffeine
  • Opt for healthy alternatives to dietary cravings


Some extent of puffiness and abdominal bloating is normal during the first trimester, however if there is excessive swelling early in the pregnancy in addition to other symptoms like headaches, dizziness, then one must speak to a doctor.

If there is severe and painful swelling, especially if it is only in one leg then the patients must see the doctor immediately as it could be a sign of a blood clot, also known as deep vein thrombosis. Sudden swelling could also indicate a fluctuation in blood pressure. Headaches or vision impairment (i.e. light sensitivity or blurriness) could be a sign of pre-eclampsia, or high blood pressure related to pregnancy Chest pain, difficulty breathing along with pregnancy could be an indicator of a heart problem

Pregnancy related swelling usually reduces significantly post-delivery and completely goes away within the first few weeks. It is good for women to educate themselves on the possible side-effects they may experience during their pregnancy so that they are prepared to cope with it when it occurs. With the right supportive measures, pregnancy can be a smooth ride!

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