Dr. Sophia Solomon is a leading Podiatrist in Manhattan with a focus on foot and ankle deformities and sports medicine. After completing her undergraduate degree at the University of West Georgia, Dr. Sophia Solomon attended the New York College of Podiatric Medicine, becoming a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine in 2015.... more
Swelling is something that women experience during pregnancy. This swelling is called edema. Edema can occur in your ankles, face, or belly. However, some women experience swelling even after giving birth. After delivery, some women experience swelling around the face, hands, or legs. In some rare cases, the swelling is around the incision. In cases of a cesarean delivery, or in cases where there is a tear or an episiotomy, the swelling can occur around the perineum.
Causes of Swelling
While certainly not comfortable, swelling after giving birth is very normal. While you are pregnant, your body will retain a lot of extra fluid. This additional fluid leads to an increase in body volume by as much as almost 50 percent. This fluid does not disappear right after giving birth. It will gradually go away through urine and through sweat.
During this time, because the amount of fluid is increased, it is normal for it to leak from the blood vessels into the tissue. This is what causes the swelling. Usually, this type of swelling goes away on its own. For most women, it goes away in about a week after labor. For women who experienced high blood pressure during pregnancy, a condition called preeclampsia, it might take longer than a week to get rid of the swelling.
How to Reduce the Swelling
There are some things that you can do to help in decrease the swelling:
The number one rule is to avoid standing on your feet for a long period of time. The feet should, in fact, be elevated above the level of your heart (as high as you can manage). Even when you have to be on your feet, try to organize short, frequent breaks. During these breaks, make sure to lie down and don't forget to keep your feet up! Elevating your feet will improve blood circulation.
Another thing you should keep in mind is that the shoes and clothes you wear might slow down your attempts to reduce swelling if they are too tight-fitting or uncomfortable. Be mindful of the shoes you wear. Avoid anything that is uncomfortable, such as heels. This might prevent adequate circulation.
An easy swelling reliever that you can start implementing right away: drink plenty of water. You might think differently, because you already have excessive fluid in your body, but drinking a lot of water will actually help you get rid of that excess quicker. The more water you drink, the less fluid your body will retain!
Now that you're making sure you're drinking lots of water, you should now take a look at your diet. Do your meals contain a lot of processed foods? If so, you should change this right away. Processed foods are known to contain very high amounts of sodium. Sodium is known to cause bloating and worsen the swelling that occurs after delivery. Eating a diet with lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables will help you get rid of the swelling faster. Sugar and salt should be off the menu as often as possible!
If your baby is a summer baby, make sure to take care of yourself and allow your swelling to go down by staying cool at all times. You should avoid high temperatures as much as you possibly can, and you should minimize your outdoor time on hot days as much as possible. When outside of the house, try and find spots of shade rather than staying in the sun. Using cold compresses on the areas that are swollen can also help. You can use cold compresses while at home and while you're outside.
Exercising is also a good way of improving your circulation. Start with an easy walk. Make sure to stick to light exercise only. You should always speak to your medical professional about this beforehand and make sure to never overdo it. We want to minimize and relieve swelling, not increase it.
In general, swelling after giving birth should not be a reason to worry. It is very common and, as noted, usually goes away on its own. If you are swelling around your incision scar or the perineum, make sure to consult with your medical professional about the measures you need to take to keep the area clean and prevent infection.
Sometimes the swelling comes with other symptoms, which may suggest that something may not be quite right. If your swelling does not go away within a week, or if it is accompanied by the following symptoms, you should consult with your doctor as soon as possible:
- Pain that is increasing
- Foul odor
- Leaking discharge
These may be symptoms of an infection and if that is the case, swelling will not go away on its own. You will need to be treated by your doctor, and the sooner you start with treatment, the better. This is especially the case for breastfeeding mothers, as some types of infections come can possible be transferred to your baby through your milk.
Another indicator that something isn't quite right is if you feel pain in your hands or feet. While it is normal for you to be somewhat uncomfortable due to swelling, there should not be any pain involved. Furthermore, if you notice that one leg or hand is more swollen than the other, or if you only feel pain on one side, or if the color of one of your feet or legs starts to change, you might have a more serious problem such as deep vein thrombosis.
A deep vein thrombosis is a blood clot that is usually found in the leg. Such blood clots can have life-threatening complications so you should see your doctor about any symptoms as soon as you can. In general, if you experience any changes with your body you are worried about, you should always consult with a professional to make sure that everything is normal.