Pregnancy causes major changes in a woman’s body, and one unpleasant side effect many pregnant women experience is swelling in the legs, hands, and feet. This swelling is caused by fluid retention and increased pressure from the growing uterus on veins that return blood to the heart. While swelling is usually normal and rarely a cause for concern during pregnancy, it can be painful and make wearing shoes or walking difficult. Reducing swelling is important for a pregnant woman’s health, comfort, and mobility.
Exercise during pregnancy has many benefits, including reducing swelling in the legs. Walking, swimming, or mild yoga are all low-impact exercises that encourage blood flow and circulation in the legs. Walking is particularly useful because it engages the calf muscles, which stimulate the flow of fluid from the legs back to the heart. Staying active also has the benefits of maintaining a healthy weight gain during pregnancy and boosting your mood and energy level. When exercising, wear loose, comfortable clothing and supportive shoes. Start slowly and avoid overheating. Staying well-hydrated while exercising is also important to avoid dizziness or cramping. Check with your doctor first before starting any exercise routine during pregnancy.
Elevate Your Legs
Elevating your legs is one of the simplest and most effective ways to reduce swelling during pregnancy. When sitting or lying down, place pillows under your legs so they rest higher than the level of your heart. This position improves fluid drainage and allows gravity to help pull fluid away from your feet and ankles. The best times to elevate your legs are:
- After long periods of standing or walking, elevate your legs as soon as you can sit down.
- At night before bed, prop up pillows under your feet, ankles, and calves.
- During the day, place pillows under your legs when sitting on the couch, reclining, or lying down.
- After exercising, raise your legs after physical activity to enhance circulation and fluid flow.
Compression socks, stockings, or leggings apply gentle pressure to your legs which helps circulation and reduces fluid buildup. Compression for pregnant women should be moderate, ranging from 15 to 20 mmHg. Compression socks should be fitted properly for maximum benefit, so look for maternity compression socks or get fitted by a medical supply store. Many women find that compression socks for men are more comfortable during pregnancy due to their looser fit.
Hydration and Nutrition
While it may seem counterintuitive, drinking plenty of water helps reduce swelling during pregnancy. Staying hydrated keeps your blood volume normal and prevents your body from retaining excess fluid. Limit your intake of salt and caffeine because they can cause fluid retention. A nutritious diet rich in lean protein, fresh produce, and fruits and vegetables also aids in reducing swelling. Some recommended foods include:
- Bananas: High in potassium, which helps maintain proper fluid balance.
- Avocados contain healthy fats that promote the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins important for fluid regulation.
- Omega-3 fatty acids are found in salmon and sardines, which may assist to lessen inflammation in the body.
- Leafy green vegetables: Due to their high magnesium and folate content, leafy greens may be able to reduce fluid retention.
Massage therapy during pregnancy has many benefits for well-being, and proper leg massage can help improve circulation and relieve swelling. Massaging your leg muscles, especially your calves, helps fluid and blood flow freely through tissues and back toward your heart. When massaging legs, use gentle pressure and long, smooth strokes. Focus on areas like calves, ankles, and feet. Warm essential oils like lavender can enhance relaxation and increase benefits. However, check with your prenatal care provider before using any essential oils during pregnancy. Professional prenatal massage therapy may be even more beneficial. Leg massage as part of a full-body prenatal massage treatment helps provide maximum relief from swelling and discomfort. Your doctor can also refer you to a physical therapist who can perform specialized leg massage and wraps to reduce swelling.
Swelling during pregnancy is common and usually not harmful, but it can cause many women discomfort, pain, and mobility issues. The five techniques discussed here—staying active, elevating your legs, wearing compression socks, proper hydration and nutrition, and massage therapy—can significantly reduce leg swelling and provide relief throughout your pregnancy so you can remain as comfortable and active as possible. However, you should always talk to your doctor before trying new methods to ensure the best care for you and your baby.