My first was a summer baby, and my husband and I lovingly referred to my ankles as Flintstone-esque. It was even agonizing for me to walk along the waters edge at the beach — each small wave that lapped against my ankles made them throb.
But it doesn’t have to be summer for you to be experiencing swelling in the calves, ankles, and feet; and this condition can cause mild discomfort to flat out pain.
There are many contributing factors as to why a pregnant woman will have swelling; the biggest issue, though, is circulation. Carrying all that additional weight in the abdomen decreases the circulation to your legs. Add to that the dramatic increase of fluids in your system and you get such wonderful pregnancy issues as swelling, leg cramps, spider/varicose veins – perhaps even feeling like your legs are stuffed full like sausages.
1. Get into the water. Since circulation is the big culprit, most women find comfort in doing activities that get the fluid moving and away from the extremities. While I recommend that every woman consult her doctor/midwife before starting any new physical activities, swimming can be successful in reducing the swelling. In addition, being in the water makes pregnant women feel light and buoyant – very welcome sensations. Hydrotherapy, in general, can be effective as well as palliative. Soaking your feet in Epsom salts at the end of a long day can also be quite soothing.
2. Move around. Be sure to elevate your feet whenever possible, preferably while lying on your side. Lying on your left side is better for circulation, but that doesn’t mean you can’t lie on your right side, too (unless your doctor/midwife has told you to stay on your left). Switch from side to side or else one hip may start to ache. Also, whenever sitting for long periods of time, at your desk or on the couch, remember to do some ankle circles.
3. Watch what you eat and drink. Be mindful of what you’re putting into your body as well. Water, water, and more water. You really can’t drink too much water during pregnancy. It can help with so many issues from swelling to keeping your uterus from becoming cranky (remember, it’s a big muscle!). And don’t skimp on salt, either. Oftentimes we associate salt with swelling, but you don’t want to cut back on salt during pregnancy unless your doctor/midwife advises you to for medical reasons – otherwise salt to taste. Protein is another big nutritional component. During pregnancy be sure to consume about 70g+ each day.
4. Get a massage. Of all the things you can do to help reduce the swelling, perhaps the most pleasurable is massage. Massage increases circulation, reduces swelling, and can help lower the incidence of calf cramps.
It tends to be more enjoyable to have someone else give you massage, and I recommend you have that someone do a little calf massage every evening before going to bed. Have them use a thick hand cream and basically work the big muscles in the back of the calf as if kneading dough – alternating hands, using pressure with the fingertips and thumbs as well as sides of the hands. End by cupping the calf in both hands down at the ankle and pushing up towards the knee, moving all of that fluid away from the foot. Of course, a few minutes spent on the foot would be wonderful, too! (If you have spider or varicose veins, consult with your doctor/midwife before having any leg massage.)
In general, regular massage treatments throughout pregnancy are recommended. Massage can help with the side effects of slowed circulation as well as counter low back discomfort and be emotionally soothing. Consider scheduling massage at the same frequency with which you would see your doctor/midwife — once a month at first and then increasing as pregnancy progresses.
Becky Morgan, Childbirth Education Program Manager