What Can I Do About Swelling in Pregnancy?

  • 80%

    of pregnancies experience swelling

  • Preeclampsia

    Sudden swelling accompanied by other symptoms can be a sign of preeclampsia

  • Helpful Tips

    • Elevating your feet throughout the day is the easiest way to reduce swelling
    • Taking breaks and walking around frequently can promote circulation
    • It seems counterintuitive but stay hydrated

What is it?

Swelling, also known as edema, is a common occurrence during pregnancy and postpartum. It happens when fluids build up in the tissues, and it’s usually most noticeable in the feet and legs (known as peripheral edema). You might also notice swelling in your hands and fingers, which can make your rings feel tight.

Sudden swelling accompanied by other symptoms like headache, vision changes, or chest pain, or shortness of breath can be a sign of preeclampsia, a serious condition. If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s important to see your healthcare provider right away. See “When Should I Be Worried” below to read more about the warning signs of preeclampsia .

How common is it?

Very common. Edema or swelling occurs in approximately 80% of pregnancies.

When does it happen?

Swelling is usually the most noticeable toward the end of the day when fluids have had a chance to build up in your extremities.

  • This is especially true in your calves, ankles, and feet. If you find yourself sitting cross-legged for standing for long periods, you may notice even more swelling.
  • It typically happens in the third trimester but can be an issue throughout your entire pregnancy and postpartum.


What causes pregnancy-related edema?

Fluid changes during pregnancy


Your body’s blood volume increases up to 50% throughout pregnancy. Increased blood and fluid production during pregnancy is important to support the growth of your fetus and placenta, but it is also the primary reason for swelling and edema. Pregnancy hormones also make the walls of your veins softer, allowing fluid to collect outside the tissue. This is especially likely to happen in your lower extremities, where the pressure of your growing uterus can further slow circulation and cause blood to pool.


Heat exposure

Hot weather can contribute to swelling during pregnancy, especially if you live in a warm climate or are pregnant during the summer months. Try to stay cool and avoid spending too much time in extreme heat. It's also important to stay hydrated, so drink plenty of fluids and make sure your urine is clear and colorless.

Dietary sodium and potassium

The foods you eat can also affect swelling.

  • Salty foods are a major culprit, as they can cause your body to retain fluids.
  • Processed foods are often high in sodium and reduce potassium, an important electrolyte that supports fluid regulation.
  • You can help reduce swelling by increasing your intake of potassium-rich foods, such as avocados, beets, bananas, sweet potatoes, spinach, and watermelon.


Caffeine can dehydrate you leading to more swelling

Caffeine is a diuretic, which means it causes you to urinate more often. This can actually lead to dehydration, which can trigger your body to retain more fluids. If you're experiencing swelling, you may want to reduce or eliminate your caffeine intake to see if it helps.

What can I do about it?

There are several practical things you can do to help reduce swelling or prevent it from becoming an issue.

Elevate your feet and hands

Elevating your feet, ankles, and legs is the easiest way to reduce swelling, ideally, with your feet above your heart. This elevation helps move the fluid from your lower extremities toward your pelvis.

  • For swollen wrists, elevate your wrists above your heart
  • If working at a desk, try putting a stool under your feet
  • If flying while pregnant, take breaks to get up and walk around frequently.


Water immersion

One study found that soaking your feet in a tub or swimming can help reduce swelling. The water pressure helps to move the fluid from your lower extremities toward your pelvis.

Massage may help with swelling

There is some evidence that foot massage can help reduce swelling in the legs and feet.

  • You can do it yourself with a foot massage ball or have someone do it for you.
  • Manual lymphatic drainage massage can also help reduce edema by stimulating blood flow, fluid movement, and the lymphatic system by utilizing upward motion strokes.


Compression socks promote blood flow and reduce swelling

Compression socks can help prevent and treat edema by putting pressure on the major veins of the legs. This helps promote blood flow and reduce swelling. It's important to note that knee-high stockings could be too tight in the middle of your leg, making swelling worse.

Comfortable shoes

Choose shoes that don't constrict circulation, such as flats or shoes with a wide toe box. For instance, flats may provide more comfort to your feet than heels. Insoles can also provide added comfort and arch support.

Movement and walks

Taking breaks throughout the day to stretch your legs and walk around can help reduce swelling. Low-impact exercises such as walking or swimming can help promote circulation in the body.

Stay hydrated

It seems counterintuitive, but staying hydrated will actually help the body retain less fluid.

  • When you’re dehydrated, your body wants to hang on to as much liquid as possible, contributing to swelling.
  • There isn’t widespread consensus on how much water you should drink daily, but the general recommendation is to drink half your weight in ounces of water daily.
  • If you’re exercising or are in a hot climate, you may need to increase your consumption.


When should I be worried?

Swelling during pregnancy is normal and common, but it can also signal serious conditions like preeclampsia or deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Sudden swelling in your face and around your eyes and extreme swelling in your hands, feet, or ankles combined with chest pain or any difficulty breathing are all cause for concern. If you experience these symptoms, contact your healthcare provider.


Preeclampsia is persistently high blood pressure that develops during pregnancy or postpartum. It can occur before, during, or after delivery and is estimated to impact 2-8% of people during pregnancy and postpartum. It’s a serious condition that can progress rapidly and is more common in Black women, women over 40, and teens.

Blood pressure at or over 140/90 means you should contact your healthcare provider, and blood pressure at or over 160/100 means you seek emergency medical attention immediately. You can monitor your own blood pressure at home with a digital cuff. If you experience any of the signs of preeclampsia, contact your healthcare provider.


Signs of preeclampsia:

  • Blood pressure at or over 140/90
  • Dull or severe, throbbing headaches, often described as migraine-like, that won't go away
  • Blurred vision, seeing spots, or bright flashing lights
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • A history of high blood pressure or preeclampsia during pregnancy or delivery
  • Stomach pain
  • Swelling in your hands and face
  • Shortness of breath

Eclampsia is one of the leading causes of preventable maternal deaths in the United States. Eclampsia is characterized by the onset of seizures, stroke, or a coma and can lead to death. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, immediately contact your healthcare provider and go to the ER. Be your own advocate.

Read more about that in our article on Preeclampsia.

Bodily does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The resources on our website are provided for informational purposes only. You should always consult with a healthcare professional regarding any medical diagnoses or treatment options.


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