Understanding and Preventing Swelling During Pregnancy

pregnant woman standing on sand

Edema is a medical term that refers to swelling in the lower extremities, resulting from excess fluid in the body’s tissues.

During pregnancy, edema is usually most pronounced around the fifth month and can increase (and become more uncomfortable) in the third trimester. While the ankles and feet are most commonly impacted by edema, sometimes it can appear in the fingers, face, and hands as well.

What causes swelling during pregnancy?

A woman’s body produces up to 50 percent more blood and fluids during pregnancy to accommodate the needs of her growing baby. The extra retention of fluid is necessary to soften the body to enable it to grow as the baby grows. It also helps prepare the tissues and pelvic joints to open in preparation for childbirth.

Twenty-five percent of the weight gain experienced by women during pregnancy comes from these extra fluids.

How can I tell if I am suffering from edema?

To test for edema, simply press the inflamed area with your thumb for about 20 or so seconds. Release the pressure and, if edema is present, you will see a hollow formed at the site of compression.

What can I do to alleviate/prevent swelling during pregnancy?

Again, swelling is considered a normal part of pregnancy. However, there are steps that you can take to prevent and reduce the severity of swelling, such as:

• Eating foods that are high in potassium, such as bananas and avocados

• Avoiding caffeine and alcoholic drinks

• Avoiding sitting with legs and ankles crossed

• Applying cold compresses to swollen areas

• Minimizing outdoor time in hot weather

• Avoiding standing/walking for long periods of time

• Resting/sitting with feet elevated

• Drinking water

• Minimizing the consumption of sodium, and avoiding adding excess salt to meals (this promotes water retention)

• Avoiding clothes that are tight around the ankles or wrists

• Wearing comfortable shoes

• Swimming or resting in a pool

• Using cold compresses on swollen areas

• Getting adequate rest. This helps the kidneys flush out excess water.

• Wearing supportive stockings and tights

• Exercising regularly

While considered a very normal part of pregnancy, the presence of edema can be a signal of more serious, underlying problems, such as preeclampsia. This is a pregnancy condition diagnosed if a woman has high blood pressure and protein in her urine at the 20 week mark of pregnancy.


Some warning signs for preeclampsia are sudden swelling in your face or hands, sudden or excessive swelling in your ankles and feet, or puffiness under your eyes, or more than mild swelling in your hands. Should you suspect preeclampsia, then immediately contact your healthcare provider.