Studies show that most women experience some sort of swelling after childbirth. Most times, this can cause the skin to look stretched, puffy, or shiny. Although it is more common after a C-section, postpartum swelling (or edema) happens to almost every mother.
In most cases, it is due to fluid accumulation during and after pregnancy.
There’s a way out. In this article, we’d discuss postpartum swelling; what it is, the types, causes, duration, and treatment.
Table of contents:
- What Is Postpartum Swelling?
- What Are The Types of Postpartum Swelling?
- What Causes Postpartum Edema?
- How Long Does Postpartum Swelling Last?
- How to Relieve Postpartum Swelling
- Do I Need To See My Doctor About Postpartum Swelling?
- A Final Note from Edie & Amy
What Is Postpartum Swelling?
Remember how your ankles, hands, and face looked puffed during pregnancy? Well, this is just more of the same (only that it occurs after delivery). Interestingly, swelling is quite common in the weeks after childbirth.
The fact is: your blood and fluid volume increases by at least 50% during pregnancy.
All these fluids don’t just vanish after childbirth. Sometimes, they remain in the body and eventually cause swelling (or edema) in the feet, ankles, and hands. Furthermore, this condition is heightened in women who have had a Cesarean delivery,
If you had a C-section, the doctors would have administered IV fluids throughout the procedure. In most cases, this fluid would also be distributed and retained (for a period) in the body after delivery.
What Are The Types of Postpartum Swelling?
Although postpartum swelling is more common in the feet and hands, fluid accumulation can also occur in parts of the body like the breasts and perineum.
Other common examples of postpartum swelling include:
- Breast Engorgement: As we mentioned here, breast engorgement occurs when your breasts are full of milk. For most women, this occurs in the first few days after delivery when breast milk production exceeds the demand. When this happens, breast milk (which is also a type of fluid) accumulates in your breasts, causing them to feel sore, painful, or tender.
- Hemorrhoids: During pregnancy, you may have noticed a painful swelling around your anus. Hemorrhoids are enlarged (or varicose) veins which can occur after childbirth due to the strain and pushing during delivery. Although varicose veins are more common during pregnancy, some of the swelling may remain even after childbirth.
What Causes Postpartum Edema?
Even though most medical researchers do not fully understand the concept of edema, it is believed to be a product of hormone fluctuations during and after pregnancy. So once again, just like with other symptoms like postpartum hair loss and postpartum depression, the hormones are involved.
Furthermore, edema in pregnancy may arise as the growing baby and expanding uterus place pressure on the major vein (Vena Cava) running along the right side of your body.
When this happens, blood flow slows down and excess fluid leaks into the tissues of your ankles and feet. In fact, this fluid can also leak into the tissues of your wrists and cause a condition called Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
As we mentioned earlier, having a C-section can also cause swelling after delivery. This is usually a function of the IV fluids and medication received during the procedure.
Other possible causes of swelling during and after pregnancy include:
- Standing for long periods of time
- Hot weather
- High Sodium intake
How Long Does Postpartum Swelling Last?
Are you also asking: How long would my feet and hands continue to look swollen?
Not long, thankfully.
The swelling in your legs, feet, and hands will reduce on its own in the first week after delivery. In this time window, your body is simply flushing out all the excess fluid in the swollen regions of your body.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that the duration of postpartum edema varies from woman to woman. Thankfully, there are many ways to relieve swelling after childbirth.
Read on to find out!
How to Relieve Postpartum Swelling
Postpartum swelling is normal and it would go away in about a week. To help you feel better, we’ve compiled the following essential tips:
1. Don’t Stand For Too Long
In the first few days after childbirth, proper rest is really important. In addition to helping you meet your little one’s demands, quality rest would also improve blood flow and prevent swelling in your feet and ankles.
To find relief, we recommend taking breaks or elevating your feet if you have to sit for a long time. It is also important to sit without crossing your legs, to improve blood flow and excess fluid removal.
2. Drink a Lot of Water
You may not know this, but you need to take at least 8 glasses of water daily.
Although this may seem weird considering the fact that you’re already retaining a lot of fluid, but drinking water will actually aid excess fluid removal.
It’s simple really: The more water you take in, the more fluids you remove whenever you pee.
3. Wear Easy Shoes
Just as they did while you were pregnant, your wardrobe choices matter.
As you try to relieve postpartum swelling, remember to wear shoes that aren’t tight at the feet. In fact, we recommend avoiding high heels in this period. You should go for loose-fit clothes that are not tight around your wrist or ankles.
4. Eat Healthy
Make sure your meals contain a healthy amount of protein, fruits, and veggies. Furthermore, things like bananas, sweet potatoes, and strawberries also help to improve fluid and blood circulation.
Please, avoid junk food and meals with high sodium content as much as you can.
5. Stay Cool
If you can, try to keep your body temperature on a steady level. If possible, limit the amount of time you spend out in the sun to the barest minimum. This is because heat can worsen swelling, especially for new moms.
6. Move Around
As usual, exercise helps. If you’re dealing with any form of postpartum swelling, engage in light exercises like walking to improve circulation. However, it is important to speak with your doctor before starting any exercise routine.
Do I Need To See My Doctor About Postpartum Swelling?
Here’s the fact: If you had a C-section, it is normal to have a mild swelling around the incision site or perineum (the area between your vaginal opening and anus). Nonetheless, it is important to follow your doctor’s recommendations about keeping your incision site clean.
Although minor swelling (or edema) is expected after childbirth, if you observe any of the following signs, please consult your doctor ASAP:
- Leaking discharge from the incision site.
- Extreme (and increasing) pain in your feet or ankles
- Foul odor coming from the surgical site
Sometimes, these symptoms can indicate the presence of an infection which should be treated immediately. If you notice any of these, please call your doctor immediately.
In addition, postpartum swelling in your hands and feet should NOT be painful.
If you feel any disturbing (and increasing) pain in the swollen areas, you may need to contact your doctor. This advice also will be useful for postpartum itching.
Also, it is not normal for your feet to be more swollen on one side than the other, or to have a noticeable discoloration in your leg. This may be an indication of a deep vein thrombosis, which must be treated immediately.
A deep vein thrombosis is a serious condition that occurs when a blood clot forms in a deep vein of the leg. Although it is potentially harmful, early medical diagnosis is the first step to proper treatment. Therefore, it is really important to follow the guidelines mentioned in this article.
A Final Note from Edie & Amy
Do not worry.
Postpartum swelling is a normal part of the recovery process after childbirth. Even if you had a C-section, some amount of swelling is still expected as you recover. Thankfully, everything would go away in a short while. However, if that relief doesn’t come after a week or if you notice any major swelling or pain in any region, please contact your doctor.
You are not alone, Mama.
- Swelling during pregnancy. (2015).
- Your body after baby: The first six weeks. (n.d.).