Why do ankles swell in pregnancy?
During pregnancy, you experience many changes to sustain the growing fetus inside your body. One of the changes is the increase in the blood volume, which occurs because your body has to carry blood for yourself and for another growing baby. For this reason, your ankles will swell a little while you're pregnant.
However, there are many other reasons that can contribute to ankle swelling during pregnancy. The increasing size of the uterus will add pressure to the pelvic veins and the inferior vena cava. The inferior vena cava is a blood vessel that drains blood to the right heart. When the inferior vena cava is compressed, the blood flowing back to the right heart is reduced, leading to a pooling of blood in the legs and ankles, which ultimately causes fluid to leak out of the vein and into the tissues, causing your ankles and legs to swell.
Ankle and leg edema are more likely to occur during the last part of your pregnancy, which is the third trimester. The swelling may be severe in women with a large volume of amniotic fluid or those who carry multiple babies.
At the end of the day, the extra fluid gets accumulated in the lower legs, especially if you have been standing for a long period of time. However, the swelling is not harmful to you or your baby, but it can be pretty uncomfortable.
After delivering the baby, the swelling will come down as your body tries to get rid of the excess fluid. Along with the reduction of your ankle edema, you may experience increased sweating and an increasing frequency of urination.
When should you worry about ankle swelling during pregnancy?
Most pregnant women experience mild swelling in their ankles and legs, which is quite normal during the pregnancy period. It is also normal to see some mild swelling of the hands.
However, you need to start worrying if your ankle or leg swelling increases all of a sudden or if there is an excessive swelling compared to other pregnant women or to your previous pregnancy. Puffiness around your eyes and swelling of the face are also warning signs, which signify that something may be wrong. An excessive swelling in your ankles, facial edema, and puffy eyes can be signs of preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a hypertensive disorder during pregnancy, which is a very serious condition. If a pregnant woman's blood pressure is not strictly controlled during pregnancy, her condition can go onto the development of convulsions. This condition is known as eclampsia.
If your leg swelling is comparatively more on one side and is accompanied by pain and tenderness in that leg, it could be due to a blood clot. Therefore, visit your health care provider as soon as possible.
How can you avoid ankle swelling?
Here are a few tips that you can take to avoid ankle swelling. Doing the following things will ease your discomforts as the swelling subsides:
- Try to avoid standing for long periods of time - When you have a chance, sit down for some time and take a rest.
- Use comfortable shoes - Do not wear shoes with tight straps or anything that may tighten in your feet while it’s swollen. Try to find some comfortable shoes to wear.
- Keep your legs elevated as much as you can - When you go to bed, keep your legs elevated at a level slightly higher than your heart. Elevating your legs will drain away all the excess fluid that was accumulated in your lower legs. For example, you can prop up some pillows on the foot end of the bed and keep your legs on top of them.
Carry out some foot exercises - You can do these foot exercises when while standing or sitting down. These exercises are beneficial to you in several ways and some of the benefits include improving blood circulation to your lower legs, reducing the swelling in your ankles, and can help to prevent cramps in your calf muscles. You can try the following exercises when you have some free time:
- Bend and stretch your foot up and down about 30 times on each side.
- Rotate your foot in a circular motion in both clockwise and counterclockwise directions. Repeat the same exercise on the opposite foot as well.
- Sleep on your side - It is preferred that all pregnant women sleep on their side, especially their left side. Sleeping on your left side will help your kidneys to work along, which in turn helps the kidneys to eliminate all the waste materials out of your body, thereby reducing the swelling in your ankles.
- Do not wear tight stockings - Your aim should be to let the fluid buildup in the lower legs to flow easily. Therefore, do not wear tight stockings or bandages that will compress your legs and prevent the fluid from moving freely. It will only make the condition worse.
- Drink plenty of water every day - Some pregnant women may have excessive sodium in their body, which causes water retention and swelling. Excess sodium can be flushed out of one's system through drinking water at least 8 to 10 glasses a day. Hence, drinking the recommended amount of water a day will reduce the swelling in your legs and ankles.
- Don’t take too much of salt - Eating salty foods will only worsen your problem, so try to limit your salt intake. However, don’t completely cut it out of your diet. Just keep it in moderation to avoid the swelling from happening.
- Try wearing high-waisted maternity support stockings - Wear these type of stockings as soon as you get out of the bed to prevent blood from pooling in your legs and ankles, thereby preventing ankle and leg edema.
- Promote good nutrition by not consuming junk food - Avoid eating junk foods and follow a healthy diet while pregnant. The ankle swelling is only a temporary issue in pregnancy and will disappear a few days after giving birth.