Introduction

Women can experience a wide array of uncomfortable symptoms when pregnant, including normal swelling, called edema, that can affect the face, hands, legs, ankles, and feet

Every pregnancy experience is different, but many report a general trajectory that includes:

While swollen feet can occur at any time during pregnancy, they are most common during the third trimester, when a variety of factors make it suddenly difficult for women to fit in their favorite shoes or stand for significant periods of time.

Swollen feet may be common during pregnancy, but they occasionally serve as a warning sign of more significant concerns. Identifying these distinctions early on could prove vital when major health problems come into play.

Signs and symptoms of swollen feet during pregnancy

Also known as edema, swollen feet represent a noteworthy pregnancy symptom in and of themselves. Some women struggle to determine when the issue is a mere annoyance or warrants urgent medical attention. Signs of swollen feet include:

Your shoes no longer fit

While the need for larger shoe sizes may feel like a cliche to pregnant women, this can be a top sign of pregnancy-induced edema. To reduce discomfort, women can try compression stockings and minimizing time on your feet. You might also invest in flat, supportive footwear half a size above your pre-pregnancy shoes.

Discomfort while standing

Gravity can cause excess fluid to accumulate in the legs and feet, especially after standing for long periods of time. This can cause pregnant women to feel uncomfortable while on their feet. 

Changes in the appearance of your skin

While swelling is sometimes obvious at first glance, not all women notice it right away. Upon closer inspection, however, the skin may appear tighter than usual. The proportion of the feet and ankle to the rest of the leg may also look different.

QUESTION

The first sign of pregnancy is most often: See Answer

Causes of swollen feet during pregnancy

A variety of circumstances can lead to swollen feet during pregnancy. Some of these accompany common pregnancy concerns, while others may be indicative of dangerous conditions such as preeclampsia. Common causes of swollen feet include:

Fluid retention

During pregnancy, blood volume increases dramatically. The extent of this rise can vary from one woman to the next, with some seeing an increase of up to 100% above prepregnancy levels.

Expected increases in fluid, combined with hormonal changes, can lead to an increase in your blood plasma compared to your red blood cells. This results in what researchers refer to as physiological anemia. As a result, up to 80% of healthy pregnant women experience edema to some extent. This can be present in many areas of the body but often manifests in the feet. 

Dehydration

Fluid retention is sometimes a sign of dehydration, which is common due to significant increases in the need for water while pregnant. Women who do not drink enough water can suffer a variety of ill effects including constipation and anemia in addition to edema. Research suggests that dehydration during pregnancy can lead to fetal growth problems. 

Certain medications

Many prescription and over-the-counter medications can increase the potential for swelling. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), for example, can lead to fluid retention and peripheral edema in some people.

Many pregnant women take antacids for heartburn. This can lead to swelling if medications contain sodium bicarbonate and are consumed in excess.

Preeclampsia

Preeclampsia is one of the most alarming causes of swollen feet during pregnancy. This condition involves a sudden increase in blood pressure for women who previously had normal readings. It is also marked by the development of protein in the urine. This affects approximately 1 in every 25 pregnant women in the United States. 

If left untreated, preeclampsia may lead to seizures. Because swelling of the hands and feet are common in women with preeclampsia, it’s important to take these symptoms seriously.

When to see the doctor for swollen feet during pregnancy

Although annoying, swollen feet should not always be cause for concern among pregnant women. Often the problem simply occurs in response to hormonal changes or natural fluid retention. 

If, however, this accompanies other signs of preeclampsia, urgent medical attention is crucial. Visit a doctor if severe swelling arrives suddenly or alongside issues such as headaches, vomiting, blurred vision, or the perception of flashing lights. These are all common signs of preeclampsia.

Diagnosing swollen feet during pregnancy

When they aren't a preeclampsia warning sign, you can talk to your doctor about swollen feet during regularly scheduled checkups. At that time, doctors or specialists conduct physical assessments, which may include checking blood pressure or heart rate. They may ask questions about other symptoms and dietary and exercise habits.

If swelling does not appear to be an urgent concern, you’ll receive basic advice for limiting the problem and associated discomfort. If your doctor suspects your swollen feet point to a bigger concern, such as preeclampsia, additional monitoring or even a hospital visit could be necessary.

Treatments for swollen feet during pregnancy

While delivery may be the only solution that permanently reduces swelling, it’s still possible to address the problem with a few simple lifestyle changes. You can try a few of these approaches: 

  • Drink plenty of water. 
  • Limit salty foods. 
  • Avoid standing on your feet for long periods of time. 
  • Try light exercise, including swimming
  • Elevate your feet when sitting in chairs or resting in bed.
  • Wear supportive stockings or compression socks.
  • Pick flat-soled shoes with good support.
  • Use a cold compress, like an ice pack, on your feet.

SLIDESHOW

13 Early Signs & Symptoms of Pregnancy See Slideshow

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Medically Reviewed on 3/12/2021
References
American Journal of Cardiology: "Effects of Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug Therapy on Blood Pressure and Peripheral Edema."

American Pregnancy Association: "Swelling During Pregnancy."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy."

Journal of Nutrition and Food: "The Impact of Dehydration in the Third Trimesters on Pregnancy Outcome-Infant Birth Weight and Length."

Journal of the American Heart Association: "Cardiovascular Physiology of Pregnancy."

Mayo Clinic: "Sodium Bicarbonate (Oral Route, Intravenous Route, Subcutaneous Route)."

Mount Sinai: "Foot, leg, and ankle swelling."

UCSF Health: "Pregnancy: the three trimesters."

Utah Department of Health: "Your 2nd Trimester."