For many women, swollen feet are an inevitable part of pregnancy. It typically begins in the second trimester. “As the baby grows, it presses on the pelvic veins, and you get a little bit of compromised circulation,” says Jill Rabin, MD, co-chief, division of ambulatory care, Women’s Health Programs-PCAP Services, Northwell Health, New Hyde Park, New York. Hormonal shifts also get some of the blame. During pregnancy, your body produces the hormone relaxin, which causes pelvic and foot joints and ligaments to relax and enlarge.
Foot swelling tends to get worse as pregnancy progresses, especially toward the end of the day and when the temperature outside is high. Usually the swelling is nothing to worry about. But if it comes on rapidly, especially in your hands and face, call the doctor. This could be a sign of a potentially life-threatening condition called preeclampsia, which leads to rapid-onset high blood pressure that can dangerous to mother and baby.
To ease swollen feet that are a normal part of pregnancy, don’t stand or sit for extended periods of time, and put your feet up periodically above your heart to get circulating going again. Compression stockings can help too, as can exercise, putting cold compresses on your feet, and sleeping on your side.
“If you have a big belly from pregnancy, lying on your back causes the blood vessels to compress,” explains Dr. Rabin. “That makes it more difficult for the circulation to get back to the heart and will sometimes cause some of the fluid in the veins to see out.”