Swollen feet and ankles during pregnancy

What causes it and what can you do to help?

S.A.C. Dip (Diet, Exercise & Fitness), Advanced Human Anatomy & Physiology Level 3
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24 May 2024

What causes swollen ankles and feet during pregnancy?

As you probably know, pregnancy causes all kinds of changes to the body – some nice, and some not so nice! Swollen ankles and feet is one of the most common complaints, and there are some simple explanations behind this.

During pregnancy, your body will naturally retain more water in order to provide more blood and fluids to help your baby develop. All this extra fluid helps to soften the body, making all those physical changes a bit easier. However, this increase in fluid means your heart has a harder job keeping fluids moving as well, so they can begin to collect in your extremities.

The extra weight of your baby can also put pressure on your pelvic veins and vena cava, making it harder to transport fluid from the lower limbs.

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What makes this swelling worse?

Most pregnant women will find that this swelling comes and goes depending on a range of factors.

If your last trimester falls over the summer you will almost definitely notice a lot of extra swelling in your lower limbs. This is because heat can cause swelling of the feet and ankles anyway, so this coupled with pregnancy is a recipe for extra puffiness! Your body naturally dilates blood vessels in hotter weather as part of its cooling mechanism, which allows more fluid than normal to collect in your lower limbs.

If you spend a lot of time sitting or standing then you may notice that swelling is worse by the end of the day. This is because a lack of movement allows blood and fluids to settle in the lower limbs, and causes circulation to slow down.

How to reduce swollen ankles and feet during pregnancy

Luckily, there are a few simple things you can do to reduce the swelling of your ankles and feet.

The best thing you can do is try to elevate your feet. If you’re at work, try to get hold of a footrest. When at home, try propping your feet up on the coffee table, or better still, lie down with your feet propped up on a pillow or the end of the sofa. This is the easiest way to get your feet above your heart, making it easier to drain fluids from your lower limbs. 

In addition, you could rope your partner, friend or family member into giving you a foot massage. This will stimulate blood flow and help the fluids to drain away. Again, if you can prop your feet up this will be much easier.  

Sitting or standing still for too long can cause this swelling, but doing too much exercise can do the same thing, so try to get a balance between the two! Yoga is a great way to get some gentle exercise without putting too much strain on the legs and heart. The simple act of walking also helps to pump blood up from the legs, so try to fit in a bit more walking to your day – at work this could be as simple as walking to a colleague’s desk to ask a question instead of emailing. 

Lastly, get hold of some Venagel. This cooling, soothing gel is made from horse chestnut seeds and its benefits are twofold – on the one hand, the cooling effect helps to soothe hot, tired legs, while the act of massaging the gel in helps to stimulate blood flow.

Should I be concerned about swelling during pregnancy?

Swelling of the ankles, feet and even hands is very normal during pregnancy and while it can be uncomfortable, it usually isn’t anything to worry about!

However, if you experience sudden swelling in your hands and face you should contact your GP or midwife to rule out any serious complications like preeclampsia. 

If you notice more swelling in one leg than the other, especially if you also experience pain, redness or tenderness in your calf or thigh you should also see your GP or midwife to rule out a blood clot.

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