How to deal with swelling during pregnancy

Your pregnant body produces more blood and fluid, which can cause swelling. We have tips on how to cope.

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Esther Lim, 33, was ecstatic when she reached the 27th week of her pregnancy, since entering her third trimester meant that it wouldn’t be long before she saw her baby.

Then, the active first-time mum-to-be, who worked out at least twice a week well into her pregnancy, started noticing that her feet and ankles were becoming more and more swollen.

“I work in customer service and often wear slight heels and stand on my feet for long periods of time,” Lim says. “But my feet started aching and my shoes were getting tighter. My feet were swelling to the point that they looked quite unsightly and I was conscious of them.”

The petite Lim, who wears a US5 shoe size, says she stopped wearing short skirts and dresses during her pregnancy as her colleagues and friends would ask her about her swollen ankles. “It was also getting very uncomfortable for me to walk long distances,” she recalls.

Excessive swelling ― especially in the hands and face – can be a sign of preeclampsia.

Besides swollen feet, her fingers were also getting puffy, which meant that she had to stop wearing her wedding ring in her last trimester. “I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to wear my ring or my shoes, post-pregnancy,” she says.

Thankfully, after her baby girl Alyssa was born in January this year, the swelling in her fingers lessened. But while the swelling in her feet went down, her footwear went up by one size ― “I had to give away some of my narrower shoes,” she gripes.

Swelling is common during pregnancy because “hormonal changes means that blood vessels become more porous to fluids”, says Gleneagles Hospital obstetrician-gynaecologist Dr Christopher Chong. The fluid then goes out into the surrounding tissues, causing oedema, or swelling. Usually, this condition affects the lower limbs and areas below the waist.

Dr Chong adds that gravity can worsen the swelling. “An enlarging womb tends to block the blood’s return from the lower limbs, and the blood has to move into the surrounding areas ― hence oedema, piles and varicose veins can occur.”

How dangerous is oedema?
Mild swelling is usually harmless and perfectly normal. In fact, the extra fluid is also needed to prepare the pelvic joints and expand the tissues as you get ready to have your baby.

However, excessive swelling in pregnancy ― especially in the hands and face ― can be a sign of preeclampsia. Preeclampsia ― marked by high blood pressure and a significant amount of protein in the expectant mum’s urine ― can harm both baby and mum. One of the leading causes of premature births, it can also cause complications like epilepsy, cerebral palsy, as well as hearing and visual problems in the baby. It may also cause seizures, stroke, heart failure and placenta abruption in the expectant mum, which may result in a stillbirth.

How likely are you to get oedema during pregnancy? Click through to find out!

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Oedema risk factors
Three out of four women get oedema during their pregnancies, and it usually starts between the 22nd and 27th week of pregnancy.

You are more likely to get oedema if:
· You are often inactive, always lying down, standing or not moving.
· You have a history of kidney, heart and liver problems.
· The weather is warm.
· Your diet lacks potassium, or if you are taking too much sodium.
· You are consuming too much caffeine.
· You are carrying twins or multiples.

Take breaks and have a seat if you are standing too long, or go for a quick walk if you have been sitting down for a long period.

If you have swelling in your lower body or joints, you can ease the discomfort by:

1. Moving around "Exercise can help to improve blood circulation,” notes Dr Chong. “Avoid being in a position where you are not moving, for too long.” So, take breaks and have a seat if you are standing too long, or go for a quick walk if you have been sitting down for a long period.

2. Watching your diet Try to eat a balanced and healthy diet. “Avoid caffeine, salty and processed food. Avoid excessive sugar intake, and take more fruits and vegetables. Take more whole grains, and up your intake of vitamin E and C,” Dr Chong advises.

3. Wearing compression stockings These help to compress fluids in your legs and also prevent Deep Vein Thrombosis ― the development of a blood clot in a deep vein. The risk of DVT increases during pregnancy because the level of blood-clotting proteins increases while anti-clotting protein levels are lower.

4. Raising your legs Lie on your back, raise your legs and ask your husband to massage your lower limbs as if you are pushing the fluid towards your heart, Dr Chong recommends.

5. Sleeping on your side “And change positions often,” Dr Chong says. This helps to keep the blood flowing, plus sleeping on your left side keeps your kidneys functioning efficiently, which eliminates waste in your body and reduces swelling.

Photos: iStock

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