Water retention: swollen legs during pregnancy
The rings on your fingers feel too tight, your shoes are too small – swollen legs and hands are far from rare during pregnancy. Around two thirds of all expectant mothers experience water retention, particularly in the final trimester of pregnancy. Although many women affected by it find it unpleasant, it’s mostly harmless and automatically goes away after the birth. A number of different factors determine whether or not you will be affected by swollen legs. What exacerbates water retention during pregnancy and what can you do to alleviate it?
What causes water retention during pregnancy?
In the third trimester of pregnancy it’s not just your tummy that gets fatter and heavier – for many women, their legs also feel swollen, too. Water retention (oedema) also occurs, particularly towards the end of the pregnancy. It’s particularly at the end of a long day with long periods of sitting or standing, or during periods of warm weather that your bodily fluids start to collect in your legs and feet.
The pregnancy hormones are primarily responsible for these unpleasant symptoms. The hormones expand the blood vessels so they lose their elasticity and become more permeable. This makes it easier for fluid to move out of the bloodstream and into the intercellular spaces in the connective tissue where it stays deposited.
If symptoms during pregnancy or in the days after birth include, as well as water retention, an increase in the protein eliminated in urine and high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia (a condition associated with high blood pressure) could also be causing the oedema. In most cases, however, this will already have been diagnosed and treated by the gynaecologist at a very early stage through regular precautionary tests.
What you can do about swollen legs during pregnancy
There’s no doubt that swollen legs are annoying. It’s difficult to avoid water retention during pregnancy, but there are a few things you can do to alleviate the symptoms:
- Despite the excess water in your legs you shouldn’t neglect your fluid balance, so make sure you’re getting enough to drink. That’s because maintaining a stable water balance is important for ensuring the mother and child’s bodies are properly supplied. Inadequate fluid intake can cause circulatory problems, for example.
- Standing or sitting for long periods favours water retention. So, it’s best to put your feet up now and again during pregnancy.
- Exercise and moderate sports such as walking or swimming can also help to combat oedema. Regular exercises such as rotating your feet stimulate circulation and alleviate swelling.
- And choose clothes that don’t interfere with your circulation: Go for loose-fitting tops and trousers as well as flat shoes that have enough room for your feet.
- On hot days pregnant women can help their swollen legs with cool foot baths or wraps
Please note: You should never start diets such as diuretic diets or exclude salt from your diet during pregnancy. Although water binds salt, which helps oedemas to form, it is also involved in key processes in the body. For example, salt regulates the fluid and mineral balance and helps keep the metabolism functioning.