The changes in your body during pregnancy sometimes cause some discomfort. One of these changes is water retention ( oedema).
During pregnancy, most women observe mild to moderate swelling, especially in the hands, feet and ankles. Some times, your feet feel heavy sometimes numb. Your face may look puffy, your nose a bit larger. Your rings and footwear may stop fitting like they used to. Interestingly, some mums have had to go up a shoe size as a result!
The amount of swelling varies from woman to woman. This variation is based factors like temperature and time of day; it’s usually more in the evening hours.
This article contains all you need to know about water retention (oedema) in pregnancy; the causes, symptoms and tips on how to keep it under control.
What is water retention / oedema?
Oedema is the accumulation of fluid in the body tissues.
It’s quite common during pregnancy because the body produces more blood and body fluids to meet the demands of the developing baby.
Although most women notice oedema in the 2nd trimester, it may begin between the 22nd and 27th week and remain until childbirth
Causes Of Oedema During Pregnancy
1. Increased Blood & Fluid Volume
Interestingly, your blood volume increases by up to 50% during pregnancy. This increase occurs to ensure that you and your little one (or two) get all the necessary nutrients and oxygen.
2. Increased Hormone Production
Several hormones rise in levels to maintain pregnancy. These include HCG levels (which is used to confirm pregnancies), to progesterone, oxytocin and other hormones necessary for a safe and healthy pregnancy.
However, this increase in particular hormone levels (especially progesterone) can cause the body to retain more fluids.
3. The Growing Womb
The growth of the baby results in a complementary growth of the womb. This slows the return of blood from your legs to the heart. The backed up of fluid accumulates in the feet, calves and in extreme cases thighs and groin.
Another point to note is that hot weather increases the chances of oedema in pregnancy. That is, women who live in regions like Africa and Asia are at a higher risk of retaining water in pregnancy. Our kidneys try to reduce loss of body water in such regions, subsequently leading to oedema.
5. Your Diet
Certain meals and drinks which contain caffeine and high amounts of sodium cause the body to retain water in order to keep the internal milieu balanced.
Caffeine is a diuretic. It increases urine production, thereby sending signals to your brain that you need to retain more fluids than you actually need.This excess fluid leads to oedema.
During pregnancy, we recommend some of these foods and beverages. They are safer and easy to prepare.
7. Insufficient Water Intake
We know alot of mums find it difficult to hold food down due to morning sickness.
Some mums are also grossed out by plain water. Believe it on not, a reduction in your water intake makes the body retain more fluid .
8. Long Standing Hours
Standing for long can shift most of your body fluids to the feet due to the effect of gravity. Hence, fluid accumulates and your lower limbs begin to swell.
9. Varicose veins
The increased blood volumes and pressure from gravity put a strain on the valves that keep your blood flowing in one direction from your legs towards the heart. When these valves become weak, mums tent to develop more prominent veins on their calves. This backed up fluid can accumulate in the feet as oedema.
How Do I Relieve Oedema During Pregnancy?
Doing the following can provide relieve for you from edema during pregnancy:
1. Move Around
If you stand for a long period of time, take a break and sit. If you sit for long, take a few minutes to walk around. Staying in one position and not exercising the body can lead to fluid accumulation. Exercise will improve circulation of fluid around your body.
2. Sleep On Your Side.
During pregnancy, it is advisable to sleep on your side, preferably on the left. This will relieve the pressure on the body’s major vein which is on the right. This vein is the major drainage channel for fluid from your lower extremities.
3. Drink More Water.
Drinking about 8 to 10 cups of water daily will help your body get rid of excess sodium and other waste products. This helps to reduce swelling.
4. Reduce your salt intake.
High salt diets encourage the body to keep extra water in order to maintain it’s internal balance. Do not add salt to your served meals at the table just before you eat.
Limit your intake of sodium from other sources such as canned or processed food such as crisps. Furthermore, you can use spices such as garlic, locust beans (iru), ogiri, dawadawa, thyme, oregano and rosemary or incorporating dry sea food – crayfish, shrimp or fish powder. These are excellent ways of adding flavor to your food while limiting salt intake. Also, remember you do need sodium in your diet but in moderate amounts.
5. Reduce Caffeine Intake.
Drinking too much caffeine is not good for your pregnancy. It can also worsen oedema.
6. Raise Your Feet.
If your feet are swollen elevate you leg whenever you aren’t moving around. This involves raising your feet with pillows when lying down or placing your feet on a step stool while you sit. This helps to drain the fluids that have pooled in your legs.
7. Dietary Modifications.
Some meals help to relieve oedema during pregnancy. Eating foods rich vitamins and minerals can go a long way to keep edema in check. Meats like turkey and chicken are high in protein. In addition, proteins are broken down by the body to essential amino acids which help balance the amount of fluid in your tissues.
When should I be worried about oedema?
Although water retention is often seen in pregnancy, it can be a warning sign you shouldn’t ignore. If you notice the following in addition to the oedema please consult your doctor:
- Blurred vision or spots of light in your vision
- Reduced daily urine output
- Pain in your chest or upper part of your tummy
- Difficulty breathing or swallowing
- Painful hot calves
- Incessant body itching
- Sudden severe swelling of just one leg
Oedema is a common side effect of pregnancy that resolves a few weeks after your baby is born. It can be managed with minor dietary and lifestyle changes. However, it can be a warning sign for health conditions that need attention from your doctor.
Finally, remember to listen to your body and remain vigilant for early warning signs.
- Fahad Tanveer and Sana Shahid (2015). “Frequency of Lower Extremity Edema during 3rd Trimester of Pregnancy.” South Asian journal of Medical Sciences (SAJMS). Accessed on 19th October, 2020 from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/315526404_Frequency_of_Lower_Extremity_Edema_during_3rd_Trimester_of_Pregnancy
- Anthony Akinloye Bamigboye and George Justus Hofmeyr (2006). “Interventions for leg edema and varicosities in pregnancy: What evidence?” European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology. Accessed on 19th October, 2020 from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/7103365_Interventions_for_leg_edema_and_varicosities_in_pregnancy_What_evidence
- Rebecca MD Smyth, Nasreen Aflaifel, Anthony A Bamigboye, and Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group (2015). “Interventions for varicose veins and leg oedema in pregnancy.” The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. Accessed on 19th October, 2020 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7050615/#__ffn_sectitle