Cankles. One of the strange but real side effects of pregnancy. Though they’re totally normal, they can be uncomfortable and perhaps, um, unsightly.

Really, what’s the deal with swollen feet during pregnancy, aka edema?

Can swollen feet be avoided? Is there anything you can do to relieve the swelling? Can swollen feet ever be a sign of something more serious?

Read on, mama.

What does it mean to have swollen feet during pregnancy?

Swollen feet during pregnancy, or edema, is due to your body hanging onto excess fluids, especially in the hands and feet. Though it can happen to anyone at any time for various reasons, edema is particularly common in pregnant women.

What causes swollen feet while pregnant?

Edema is a normal reaction to the inflammation caused by pregnancy. When you’re pregnant, your blood volume and bodily fluids increase by 50%. This excess fluid ensures baby has what she needs when she needs it. But it needs to be stored somewhere, hence your swollen feet.

Besides the feet, swelling can occur in the ankles, calves, hands, and face.

Your kidneys regulate the fluid in your body. If it’s particularly hot out or you’re becoming dehydrated, your kidneys react by telling your body to store excess fluid in case it’s needed. Additionally, your kidneys work to process the stored fluid to give necessary body parts what they need.

The excess strain of a heavy uterus can make circulation from your lower extremities back to your heart a little less efficient, causing pooling of fluids.

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What can I do about swollen feet during pregnancy?

There are a number of diet and lifestyle choices that can help with swollen feet while pregnant.

1. Don’t sit or stand for long periods of time

This may be tricky if you work in an office, but changing positions often can really help relieve edema in pregnancy. A treadmill desk is a great solution, but if you can’t get one of those, you can try a standing desk, or sitting for a while and getting away from the desk frequently to get circulation flowing.

2. Use gravity to your advantage

If you’re having swollen feet during pregnancy, one great way to relieve the swelling is by putting your feet up often. When you’re lounging at home, try to keep your feet above your heart.

3. Drink more water

It may seem counterintuitive, but drinking more water will actually help you get rid of excess fluids. When your body is dehydrated, your kidneys think they need to hold onto as much water as possible since there doesn’t seem to be enough. Giving your body the fluids it needs will remind your kidneys that it can get rid of the excess.

4. Drink less caffeine

Caffeine is a diuretic, which means it increases the amount of fluid you eliminate through urine. However, it also causes dehydration, which makes your kidneys hang onto more excess fluid. Try to reduce the amount of caffeine you have each day—which is good advice for pregnancy anyway—and when you do drink caffeine, make sure to drink plenty of water too.

5. Balance your electrolytes

Salt is very important for staying properly hydrated. Be sure to get plenty of healthy sea salt in your diet. That means staying away from table salt and processed foods, and instead eating real food seasoned to taste with high-quality sea salt.

In addition to salt (sodium), there are 3 other main electrolytes (potassium, magnesium, and calcium) necessary to keep you adequately hydrated. It’s important to keep these electrolytes in the proper balance.

For example, too much salt without enough potassium can cause heart problems. That’s why balancing the electrolytes is usually more important than adding just salt to your diet. You can get these electrolytes in this liquid supplement form, in a powder form, or from food.

Try this electrolyte drink or sip on coconut water with a dash of sea salt.

6. Exercise regularly

Though exercise can cause some edema (have you ever noticed your hands get puffy after a workout?), its benefits are much greater. Regular exercise optimizes the circulatory system so that excess water doesn’t pool in the legs or hands.

7. Optimize your diet

In addition to a healthy pregnancy diet, edema can benefit from a high-protein and high-salt diet, known as the Brewer’s diet. (I know, seems counterintuitive!) Protein in the blood acts as a sponge to hold water inside blood vessels. When there is not enough protein, fluid leaks out of the blood vessels and into the surrounding tissue.

We know that salt is important in keeping fluid in the blood rather than in the tissue, so the combination of the two is an excellent way to manage feet swelling during pregnancy.

Dr. Brewer had great success working with patients with edema, toxemia and preeclampsia with his diet and protocol. Always check with your doctor before making any diet or supplement changes. 

8. Try apple cider vinegar

Mix a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with a cup or two of water, and drink twice a day. ACV is high in potassium, which can help balance your electrolytes.

9. Use magnesium oil or take a salt bath

Spray your inner arms and legs with this magnesium oil spray per the label’s instructions (again, check with doctor before using.) Place a cup of magnesium flakes into your bath water. Magnesium is best absorbed through the skin, so this is a great way to increase your magnesium levels.

10. Use a skin brush

This skin brush supports the circulatory system that can help relieve mild cases of edema. Start at feet and brush upward toward the heart. You can then start brush at hands and brush upward toward the heart. This will help move fluid throughout the lymph system and support blood circulation. Do this skin brushing twice per day.

11. Go swimming

Just like water helps with birth, water can also help relieve the pull of gravity on the fluids in your body.

Photos of swollen feet during pregnancy

I asked the fabulous mamas on my Facebook page to show me their pregnancy feet. Here are some of their magnificent tootsies!

Fabulous pregnancy feet swollen feet pregnancy by Mama Natural

When should I be worried about feet swelling during pregnancy?

Though edema in pregnancy is incredibly common and normal, it may also be a sign of preeclampsia. If you are having any swelling at all, you should let your health provider know right away. Swelling on its own doesn’t mean you are developing preeclampsia, but it is one of the markers for the condition, so it’s important that your practitioner knows about it to assess other related signs and symptoms.

Other warning signs of preeclampsia:

  • Swelling that comes on suddenly
  • Excessive swelling in the face
  • Ashen appearance
  • Skin pitting (when you press on the swollen area and it doesn’t bounce back)
  • High blood pressure
  • Severe headaches
  • Changes in vision
  • Upper abdominal pain, usually under your ribs on the right side
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Decreased urine output

That being said, the natural remedies discussed above are usually still OK to try even if you have preeclampsia, as the swelling is just a symptom that needs to be managed. The Brewer’s Diet is particularly helpful for preeclampsia. But as always, check with your healthcare provider to see whether it’s safe for you to try any of these home remedies if you are developing preeclampsia.

Swollen feet during pregnancy, what’s the bottom line?

If you have swollen feet while pregnant, there’s rarely a reason to be too concerned. It’s usually normal and can be treated easily with home remedies.

Keep your practitioner in the loop on your swelling just in case, and keep an eye out for other signs of a problem, like preeclampsia. Chances are, it’s just the normal swelling of pregnancy, but better safe than sorry!