Tips & Foods That Help Reduce Pregnancy Swelling (Edema)

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Written by: Co-Founder Amanda Capriglione, RDN, CDN

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Nicole Palmer, DO

In this Article

WHAT CAUSES SWELLING DURING PREGNANCY?

WHEN DOES SWELLING START DURING PREGNANCY?

HOW CAN I REDUCE SWELLING DURING PREGNANCY?

WHAT TO EAT TO REDUCE SWELLING WHILE PREGNANT?

FOODS THAT CAUSE SWELLING & SHOULD BE AVOIDED 

Are you finding it harder to get your foot into your shoe? Or is your wedding ring getting tighter on you? Swollen feet, ankles, and hands may be to blame. 

During pregnancy, your belly isn’t the only thing that swells up. You may start to experience mild swelling throughout your body, especially your feet and ankles. This is totally normal, so don’t be alarmed when you wake up with cabbage patch kids feet. This is what is referred as Edema. 

You may experience becoming more swollen throughout your day, notably at night. Even warm weather can accentuate edema. We will be providing you with what causes pregnancy edema and what to do about it.

What Causes Swelling During Pregnancy?

Edema is an excess of watery fluid collecting in the body’s cavities or tissues. You can then thank the law of gravity for retaining it mostly in your feet and ankles. During pregnancy, your body increases blood flow and fluids to nurture you and your baby, which enables your body to expand as your baby develops.  The extra fluid also helps to prepare your body and pelvic joints to open for delivery. 

As your baby grows and your belly gets bigger, the extra weight and your placenta cause pelvic pressure that prevents the effective return of blood from your lower extremities. Pregnancy hormones relax your veins, making blood circulating back up to your heart fight harder against gravity.

Women typically have swelling in their hands in the morning and have more swelling in their ankles and feet at night. Sitting with your legs inactive for an extended period of time causes swollen ankles at the end of the day for many pregnant women. For many, swelling is usually relieved after resting in a horizontal position throughout the night, but some may experience unrelieved swelling with resting. It is typically normal when the swelling remains in the legs and arms. 

Mild swelling of the feet and ankles caused by edema is normal and harmless. Some lucky mamas may not experience noticeable swelling, which is also normal.

When googling “swelling during pregnancy”, you might see pre-eclampsia. Pre-eclampsia is a pregnancy complication described by high blood pressure, edema, and proteins in urine. Swelling can potentially be a side effect of pre-eclampsia but isn’t the way it is diagnosed. You should always talk to your healthcare provider about any water retention occurring during your pregnancy. 

When Does Swelling Start During Pregnancy?

You may experience swelling at any point during your pregnancy, but it becomes noticeable around your fifth month and tends to increase through your third trimester. Don’t worry, it usually goes away soon after delivery.

How can I Reduce Swelling During Pregnancy?

Here’s a few things that may help reduce swelling during pregnancy:

  • Stay hydrated and drink water. If your body is dehydrated, it will compensate by holding on to even more fluids. Drinking 8-10 glasses of water a day helps your system flush out excess sodium and fluid throughout your body.

  • Wear compression stockings/socks during the day.  These types of stockings help keep fluid circulating by gently compressing your feet and legs. Avoid knee-high compression stockings, as they may make swelling worse due to being too tight in the middle of your leg. 

  • Avoid standing or sitting for an extended period. If possible, try to take a seat during long periods of standing. If you’re sitting down a lot, try to take a little stroll every hour to get the blood circulating. Also, try stretching in between breaks. 

  • Elevate your feet and rest. If possible, while sitting, elevate your legs and feet - especially at the end of the day. Elevation can help drain excess fluid that pools during the day. 

  • Be active. Taking 5-10 minute strolls a couple of times a day can improve circulation and reduce swelling. 

  • Wear comfortable shoes. Comfortable, well-fitting shoes are essential to reduce foot swelling. They also help prevent back and hip problems and pain.

  • Walking or standing in a swimming pool. Although there aren’t any studies on water pressure reducing swelling, the pool seems to help compress tissues in the legs and may find temporary relief of swelling.  

  • Stay cool. Staying cool in humid or hot weather can help release extra fluids and reduce swelling. During those hot days, try keeping a fan nearby.

  • Wear loose and comfortable clothing. Wearing tight clothes keeps blood from easily circulating. Try to avoid tight elastic bands around your ankles, wrists, and waist, making swelling worse. 

  • Sleep on your left side. This takes the pressure off the inferior vena cava vein, which returns blood from the lower half of your body to your heart. Improving circulation helps reduce swelling. 

  • Get a massage. Massages help circulate fluids relieving swelling. It can also help reduce some of your stress. Relax and let your partner gently massage your feet and legs with some lavender oil to make it more relaxing. 

What To Eat To Reduce Swelling While Pregnant?

Essential vitamins and minerals in your diet can help reduce edema. Electrolyte balance can directly affect how your body is able to process extra fluids. Certain foods are natural diuretics (the increased excretion of fluids through the kidneys) and can actually help reduce swelling. Here are some foods that may help you.

FOODS THAT REDUCE SWELLING DURING PREGNANCY

  • Increase potassium intake. Potassium is an important mineral that helps your body balance the amount of fluids it holds onto. 

Foods high in potassium include these fruits, vegetables, and herbs:

  • Bananas

  • Avocados

  • Figs

  • Kiwi

  • Papayas

  • Prune juice

  • Sun-dried tomatoes

  • Spinach

  • Romaine lettuce

  • Scallions

  • Watercress

  • Celery

  • Dill

  • Arugula

  • Cabbage

  • Parsley

  • Rhubarb

  • Beans (Check out our Black Bean & Quinoa Burger Recipe!)

  • Blackstrap molasses

  • Endives

  • Potatoes (including sweet) with the skin on

  • Yogurt

  • Increase natural diuretics intake. Diuretics help your kidneys release sodium into your urine. The sodium draws out excess water in your blood, decreasing the amount of fluid in your bloodstream, reducing swelling.

Foods that are natural diuretics including fruits, vegetables, and herbs: 

  • Apple Cider Vinegar

  • Cranberry juice

  • Watermelon

  • Ginger

  • Lemon

  • Tomato

  • Asparagus

  • Celery

  • Artichokes

  • Cucumber

  • Carrots

  • Brussel Sprouts

  • Parsley

  • Eggplant

  • Cabbage

  • Beets

  • Eat protein with every meal. Protein helps thicken the blood which holds salt and water inside the blood vessels, so fluid don’t leak out into the tissues and cause edema. 

Foods high in protein:

  • Lean meat

  • Poultry

  • Cold Water Fish like salmon

  • Eggs 

  • Beans 

  • Peas

  • Nuts 

  • Sunflower Seeds

  • Drink Dandelion Leaf Tea. Infused dandelion leaf tea helps balance electrolytes in your body and helps improve circulation. It is high in potassium and is a gentle diuretic. We recommend drinking 1-2 cups a day.  

  • Take Your Daily Prenatal Vitamin. Prenatal vitamins have vitamins and minerals that help relieve water retention. 

Foods That Cause Swelling & Should Be Avoided 

There are certain types of foods you can remove from your diet to help relieve edema during pregnancy. These foods can actually contribute to edema. Try to avoid them as best as you can. 

  •  Reduce Sodium (Salt) Intake. Sodium (or salt) causes your body to retain extra water. To add flavor to your food without salt, try using savory herbs such as thyme, oregano, and rosemary.

  •  Reduce Sugar Intake. Excess sugar levels can lead to water retention. Don’t forget,  sugar is in all carbohydrate foods (bread, pasta, rice, grains) as well as fruits.

  •  Avoid Processed Foods. Most processed and pre-packaged foods are high in sodium and trans-fat, which can lead to swelling. 

  • Reduce Caffeine Intake. Even though caffeine is a diuretic, most of the time it also contains carbohydrates and sugars which can dehydrate you and have your body think it needs to retain fluids, causing swelling.