You have your bundle of joy in your hands. And then you have several questions on your mind, such as: Why are my legs and feet swollen after giving birth? Why am I rushing to the toilet all the time? It is the time when you may notice some unexpected things happening in your postpartum body. Before we get on to the remedies, MomJunction tells you why swelling or postpartum edema occurs, how you can identify it and what you can do about it.
What Is Postpartum Edema?
Postpartum Swelling (edema) is a common condition. You will probably have a swelling around your face, belly, and ankles, and in the extremities including the hands, legs, and feet (1). It will be there for a week or more after delivery. Likewise, you may also experience swelling at the incision sites, like caesarean (2) and episiotomy. All of these swellings can cause tenderness and pain, which can be a source of discomfort and inconvenience.
You will produce about 50% more blood when pregnant to nourish and protect both you and your baby. Also, low concentration of proteins and dilution of blood leads to low hemoglobin concentration and accumulation of fluids. During the delivery, not all the blood leaves the body. A combination of this extra blood, hormonal changes, and fluid retention will cause swelling post-pregnancy which is also known as pitting edema.
Expert Tips From A Gynecologist:
- In majority of the cases this is not a matter of concern and subsides by its own within a week. Just have correct posture, exercise, protein rich diet and plenty of water.
- Observe the extent of edema. If it does not subside within a week or increases in severity or is associated with other problems, do not hesitate to talk to your doctor. He will check your blood pressure, find out if you have anaemiain or any other serious issue such as diseases of heart, kidney, liver etc.
- Do not take any drug without consulting doctor as these can cause further problems and may harm your baby if it is breast fed. Contact doctor immediately if you feel pain in legs or chest, have discomfort in breathing or palpitations.
Dr Sujoy Dasgupta
MBBS (Gold Medalist, Hons)
MS (OBGY- Gold Medalist)
DNB (New Delhi)
Fellow- Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility (ACOG, USA)
Consultant Obstetrician and Gynecologist,
Specialist in Infertility and Sexual Dysfunction
What Causes Swelling After Pregnancy?
In most women, swelling increases postpartum leading to pain and general discomfort that can interfere with the responsibilities of motherhood. Even if you do not experience any swelling during pregnancy, you are likely to have swollen hands and feet after labor.
The most common cause for postpartum swelling is hormones. The body produces a large amount of progesterone during pregnancy. The excess progesterone causes water and sodium retention in the body, which leads to swelling after the birth of the baby (3).
2. Expanding uterus:
When the uterus expands with the growing baby, pressure is exerted over the veins towards the legs. It thus restricts the flow of blood to the lower body. Since there is a build-up of fluid throughout pregnancy, it will take a certain time for the fluids to subside post-pregnancy.
3. The delivery process:
The natural pressure created during pregnancy causes swollenness. Along with it, the push to give birth brings in more blood and fluids to the extremities. It will, therefore, lead to swelling in the fingers, hands, legs, feet, and also the face.
4. IV fluids:
IV fluids are also a significant cause of postpartum swelling. Most women who experience a C-section receive medications and anesthesia through IV and those who give birth vaginally receive medications such as Pitocin and certain fluids. These extra fluids tend to accumulate in your body and take several days to leave.
Symptoms Of Postpartum Edema:
Swelling in the hands and legs could be mild, moderate, or extreme.
- Skin on hands, legs, and other swollen parts appears inflamed, stretched, shiny, and puffy.
- Skin sinks if you press it.
- Swelling may also affect the abdomen apart from hands and legs.
Does Swelling Subside On Its Own?
The first thing to remember is that you need to relax, as general swelling is normal.
- Swelling in familiar areas such as hands, legs, feet, face, and lower back should reduce in a week’s time.
- During this time, your kidneys would be subjected to overwork to eliminate the excess fluids from your body.
- It means that you will experience increased urination.
- The extra fluids would also be expiated as sweat through your pores.
If the swelling does not subside on its own, you may follow some remedies that will help in easing the swelling after pregnancy.
How To Reduce Swelling After Pregnancy?
Here is a comprehensive list of remedies that help in alleviating or eliminating postpartum edema.
1. Healthy diet:
A healthy diet is vital for a woman after her delivery. When you eat properly, you can flush out extra fluids from the body and also provide higher energy levels for your baby. Eat foods rich in protein, fresh fruits, and veggies, and complex carbohydrates. Also, eat foods rich in potassium as they help alleviate swelling. Stay away from processed foods as they contain bloat-causing sodium.
2. Consume more fluids:
Do not get confused. You may be asking, “As there is excess build up of fluids in the body, would taking in more fluids work?” Yes, it would. Drinking excess fluids will signal the body to flush out the fluids that it has been holding in. It may greatly help to relieve swelling. Ensure that you drink a lot of water, and empty your bladder often.
3. Keep your hands and feet elevated:
Rest your hands and feet in an uplifted position for about 30 minutes every day. They should be raised above the level of your heart so that the blood flows into these areas properly. It will, therefore, reduce swelling in the extremities.
4. Moderate exercise:
Perform moderate exercises and activities as they help improve circulation and remove excess fluids from the body through sweat. Taking care of your newborn is also an exercise as it makes your heart pump efficiently. But all you need to do is to get your doctor’s approval before you begin anything.
Foot and leg massage is another great way to ease the swelling post pregnancy if you do not experience more swelling and pain. It is great for circulation and cuts off excess fluid build-up (4).
- Ask your partner to massage your legs and feet gently, starting from the bottom and working upwards.
- You can use base oil like grape seed oil for massaging.
- But you should avoid aromatherapy essential oils.
- Check out this video to understand ways of massaging during and post pregnancy.
6. Proper posture and rest:
Avoid crossing legs and standing for a long duration. While lying down, place the feet at an elevation above the hips. Put your feet up high, above the level of your heart. It will improve circulation and ease the swelling.
7. Soak your feet:
Soak your feet in a mixture of aromatherapy oil and water. To improve the blood flow and prevent varicose veins use cypress oil. Lavender or chamomile oil mitigates discomfort.
8. Herbal tea:
Have herbal teas in moderation during and after pregnancy. Dandelion tea is a good choice as it helps in preventing fluids from retention. Do not take them if you have gall bladder problems.
9. Cabbage leaves:
Place green or white cabbage leaves over the swollen area to relieve the discomfort as it draws out the excess fluids from the swollen legs and feet. Clean the leaves, but not with water and place them in the fridge. Now, wrap the swollen extremities with these cool leaves and leave them until they become wet. Repeat the process until the discomfort eases.
10. Acupuncture and foot reflexology:
Contemporary therapies like acupuncture and foot reflexology will be of great help in easing swelling and discomfort. Acupuncture, a key component of traditional Chinese medicine, can help by re-balancing the internal energies as well as improving kidney function and circulation.
11. Stay cool:
Stay as cool as possible because heat can worsen the swelling. As you are a new mom, stay indoors and ensure you have a good airflow in the room.
- Do not wear tight fitting clothes or any accessories as they prevent the blood flow, causing swelling.
- You can take a relaxing bath if your doctor has given you the approval. It can also help relieve swelling.
- Lie down towards your side as it improves blood circulation and therefore reduces swelling.
- You may wear supportive socks.
Dealing With Incision Swelling After Giving Birth:
Sometimes, there might be a painful swelling at the incision areas. Swelling in legs and feet is common in the initial days after C-section. This may make it difficult for you to care for your little one. There will also be additional bruising and swelling at the perineum when you experience a vaginal tearing or episiotomy.
Ice compress is the best natural remedy for edema in legs, and relieves swelling at C-section and perineum incisions. You should wipe both the areas as directed by your healthcare provider. You can also take a warm shower to get some relief. Do not apply any lotion or creams containing vitamin E until the area heals completely.
When to Worry About Swelling After Pregnancy?
Edema after pregnancy is not a sign of serious illness. It subsides on its own. However, in some cases, the swelling does not curb in a week’s time.
In some cases, the edema may be associated with other symptoms such as pain, breathing trouble, palpitations, generalized swelling in the body, low urine output etc. Consult your physician as a swollen body could sometimes indicate serious complications.
A few of the risk factors you should be aware of include:
1. Deep vein thrombosis (DVT):
DVT can cause death within hours. It’s an emergency requiring injection heparin and immediate hospitalization. If you notice the following symptoms, consult your doctor (5).
- Swollen ankles or legs
- Pain or tenderness in one or both the legs
- Red skin in the affected leg
- Visible veins
- Leg fatigue
2. Postpartum cardiomyopathy (PPCM):
A rare, life-threatening heart disease, PPCM comes suddenly and can be fatal. It often happens in women who were previously healthy. One of the major symptoms of PPCM is postpartum edema. Other symptoms include (6):
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Increased urination at night
3. Postpartum preeclampsia:
Preeclampsia is common during pregnancy. But it can happen after childbirth too. Postpartum preeclampsia can strike as soon as you give birth, or it can develop four to six weeks post delivery. Symptoms of postpartum preeclampsia include (7):
- Swelling in the extremities
- High blood pressure
- Excess protein in the urine
- Severe headaches
- Changes in vision
- Upper abdominal pain
- Decreased urination
Do not take any vitamin supplements until your doctors prescribe because they may increase your chances of getting preeclampsia postpartum. If you have the above symptoms, do not forget to check your blood pressure.
How To Prevent Postpartum Edema:
Though it is not possible to prevent postpartum edema, you can reduce its severity. It means your feet and legs may become less tender and painful. One of the best ways to prevent swelling is to have a healthy balanced diet during pregnancy so that you will not gain excess weight.
- Include lean protein in every meal. Some of the good sources include meat, poultry, legumes, beans and eggs.
- Consume about five portions of healthy food that includes fruits and veggies.
- Reduce the intake of sugar, salt, and fat foods and take in more water. It helps the kidneys to flush out excess liquids from the body.
- You should include natural diuretics as they help you to flush out excessively, therefore helping you to reduce the swelling. Natural diuretics include apples, citrus fruits, watercress, celery, and parsley.
- Include more onion and garlic in your diet as it helps improve circulation.
- Avoid processed and pre-packaged foods as they can increase fluid content in the system because of their excess salt and additional components.
- Eat foods that contain vitamin C and E. For vitamin C, take cabbage, broccoli, tomatoes, strawberries, melons, potatoes, bell peppers (red and green), and citrus fruits. For vitamin E, take almonds, cashews, corn oil margarine, wheat germ, sweet corn, vegetable oils (corn, wheat germ, and soy), and sunflower seeds.
- Quit smoking as it is not safe for your little one’s health and blocks your postpartum swelling from healing.
Postpartum edema should not be a cause of great worry or confusion. Getting back to your former figure after childbirth could be a mammoth task but, as Sylvia Brown, co-author of The Post-Pregnancy Handbook, says, “A well-informed woman can use this time to heal her body properly and give it the rest and care that it needs.”
Most Frequently Asked Question:
1. Will my feet get back their pre-pregnancy size?
You may sometimes feel that your feet are large even after the swelling subsides. It may be because of the loosening of the ligaments, which may make your feet spread. It resolves on its own. Do not worry unnecessarily because this is a typical condition that may remain for a month after pregnancy.