After you’ve been told about (and have experienced first hand) all the troubles, discomfort and unusual body changes that every woman goes through during the course of a pregnancy, you’ve been looking so forward to that postpartum phase where everything’s going to revert back to normal again – right?
Well, not so fast.
Your body doesn’t revert back to normal that quickly after your pregnancy comes to an end and you give birth to (hopefully) a perfectly healthy baby – things need a little bit of time to go back to what they used to be.
After all, everything you’ve went through during these 9 months is certainly no piece of cake.
One of the changes you might notice following childbirth, dragging on with you from pregnancy, is swelling in the legs and feet.
Should I Be Worried If I Have Swollen Feet After Pregnancy?
It’s perfectly normal for your hands and feet to still be swollen even after you’ve completed your pregnancy and have given birth to a healthy baby.
Postpartum swelling is more common that one would think it is, and is rarely ever a serious condition that puts your health and well being at risk.
With that being said, you should definitely talk to your doctor about it so they get you checked if you notice that the swelling hasn’t died down in about a week’s time and, even worse off, has increased in severity in about a week’s time.
You should also get in contact with a physician immediately if you notice any of the following symptoms in addition to the swelling.
- Headaches, lightheadedness, and/or dizziness (possibility of having high blood pressure)
- Eyesight problems
- One leg/foot is swollen significantly more than the other, and/or physically hurts significantly more than the other, especially in the back of the foot (possibility of having a blood clot)
- Chest pain and/or breathing difficulty (possibility of having a serious heart condition)
- Pain in the abdomen, especially in the upper abdominal area
- Heart palpitation
- Unusual discharge around area of incision
- Unusual redness on certain body areas, sometimes the swollen areas and sometimes other not swollen areas (possibility of having an infection)
- Sinking skin when pressing against it
- Decrease in frequency of urination and overall urine output
- Increased urination frequency and/or output during night time
- Veins in legs become unusually visible
- Severe leg fatigue
Kidney failure and/or liver failure are also possibilities if some of these symptoms are present, so it’s extremely important that you do not postpone getting checked by a doctor.
What Causes Swollen Feet After Giving Birth?
During the course of your pregnancy, it’s only normal for your body to retain excessive amounts of fluid.
Your body slowly and gradually begins getting rid of these excessive levels of fluids after you give birth, usually through urination and sweating.
However, not all of the excessive fluid retained will be lost that way, some of it will make its way into your tissue from your blood vessels, which ends up causing postpartum edema in areas such as your feet, ankles, wrists and hands.
1) Increased Levels Of Progesterone
Poor little progesterone. If there was anything that always seems to take the blame for pregnancy related changes in the body throughout all these months, it’s this hormone.
Your body increases production of the hormone progesterone throughout pregnancy, and one of the effects of this increase is increased retention of water and sodium in the body.
After delivery and as the levels of progesterone in your body begin to gradually decrease, so will the extra fluids retained in your body. It needs a little bit of time, though, and won’t happen immediately the day after you give birth.
2) The Price Of Childbirth
Believe it or not, the actual act of giving birth to your child also has a role to play in all of this.
During labor and when you’re going through all this stress trying to push your baby out, a significant portion of blood and fluids also get pushed to different areas of your body as well, especially towards the extremities such as your hands, fingers, legs and feet – which leads to the swelling of these areas.
Not to mention everything you’re given by the medical team when you’re actually giving birth to your child(ren) in the context of a c-section. From all the IV fluids you’re given, medication and anesthesia, it all adds up.
Or, if you ended up giving birth vaginally, you’ll likely have been given medications such as Pitocin and other fluids that also contribute to swelling.
Your body requires a good few days to a week’s time to get rid of all this excess fluid buildup.
3) Uterus Expansion
As you progress through your pregnancy and the more your uterus expands in coordination with your baby’s growth, the more pressure there will be applied on your veins, which results in decreased blood flow and circulation – especially in your lower body area.
This ends up causing retention of fluids in the body, especially in the lower body parts, which requires some time post-pregnancy to sort itself out.
Signs Of Having Postpartum Edema
Having postpartum edema is quite similar to the swelling you usually experience during the course of a 9 month pregnancy (or less than 9 months if you’ve given birth prematurely).
- Everything in the lower part of your body might seem to be swollen; your legs, feet, ankles, toes – you name it. By no means is the swelling restricted to your lower body, though – you can also notice that your hands are face are unusually puffy.
- You might also notice swelling around your c-section cut or your Perineotomy incision.
- Increase in urination frequency through the day
- Excessive sweating
When Does Postpartum Swelling Usually Go Away?
Different women will experience postpartum edema for different periods of time, but generally speaking, it usually lasts around one week before resolving itself on its own.
Some factors often play a role in prolonging postpartum edema, such as high blood pressure during pregnancy that greatly aggravates the swelling in areas such as the hands and feet.
How To Reduce Swelling After Pregnancy
You don’t have to wait for your body’s functions to get back to normal to see your swelling reduced after pregnancy.
Yes, it is true that your body sooner or later gets rid of all the excess fluids it has retained on its own – which end up causing this swelling in the first place – but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do your fair share to help out as well.
After all, this uncomfortable swelling does eventually get in the way of you meeting your parental responsibilities.
Even though you can’t completely prevent postpartum edema from happening, there’s a lot you can do to decrease its severity.
The following list discusses some of the most important actionable tips you can do yourself to help decrease the severity of postpartum swelling in the meantime.
1) Give Your Feet The Rest They Deserve
Now is not the time for you to be putting your feet under constant pressure and tension, now is the time for you to be giving them the rest they deserve.
Standing on your feet for prolonged periods of time at once is going to be detrimental to your efforts of getting rid of postpartum swelling.
If there’s just no running away from standing on your feet for prolonged periods of time at once because your job requires that (for example), then try your best to keep shifting your weight from one leg to the other every now and then. Give one leg a little bit of rest while exerting the other, then give the other leg a little bit of rest while exerting the first, and so on – back and forth.
The more rest you can give your feet while keeping them elevated in order to improve blood circulation, the better.
How high should the elevation level be, you ask? Experts recommend you elevate your feet above heart level whenever possible.
And if you have a tendency to cross your legs one over the other while seated, that needs to stop (temporarily, at least, until your swelling problems go away). Try your best to sit with your legs uncrossed.
2) Elevate Your Hands
Your hands need to get a some elevation just as well.
Try to make it a habit to raise your hands above your head every now and then for a combined time of 30 minutes a day, as this will also improve blood circulation in those areas and help reduce any swelling going on.
2) Choose The Right Shoes
Just like you would go shopping for the best pregnancy shoes that offer you comfort while carrying all that extra weight before you give birth to your baby, you should also choose the right shoes that offer you the comfort you need after delivery.
So, choose to wear shoes that give your feet the adequate space and breathing room they need and avoid wearing anything too tight.
No high heels, ladies!
3) Stay Hydrated
When you notice swelling in any part of your body, be that your feet, wrists, ankles or anywhere else, drinking enough water to stay hydrated is essential.
When your body is holding on to so much fluid, the majority of people are afraid to drink more water because of fear that their body will hold on to even more. You might be asking yourself the following question – “I’m already full of water and my body can’t seem to get rid of any of it, why would I ever drink more of it if my system can’t flush out what it already has?”.
That’s wrong – your body retains more water when you reduce water intake, and retains less water when you increase water intake.
You need to give your kidneys all the help they need to handle the excessive fluid levels in your body and flush them out as appropriate.
4) Pay Attention To Your Diet
Ever hear the saying “you are what you eat”? It couldn’t be any more true, especially when experiencing swollen feet after pregnancy.
When choosing to eat low quality food that’s excessively high in levels of sodium and sugar, you’ll only be giving your body another reason to retain water and make it more difficult to get rid of the swelling.
So that means that avoiding most processed and pre-packaged foods is a good first step to take.
On the other hand, when choosing to eat high quality and nutritious food that’s low in sodium and sugar levels yet rich in vitamins and minerals (i.e lots of colorful fruits and vegetables), that’s one more step you’ll be taking on the journey of kicking postpartum swelling out.
One mineral you should ensure getting enough of in your diet is potassium, since it goes a great job in reducing swelling in the body. As for vitamins, consuming food that’s rich in both Vitamin C and Vitamin E is essential.
You should also incorporate foods that improve overall blood circulation into your diet, such as oranges, dark chocolate, ginger, garlic and onions, just to name a few.
Consuming natural diuretics such as celery and citrus fruits is also a great idea since these foods help your body get rid of excessive fluid levels.
Experts recommend that you focus on a protein-rich diet until the swelling goes away on its own after around one week – but not just any kind of proteins, only focus on the highest quality, lean proteins you can get.
5) Beat The Heat
Try to avoid exposure to high temperatures as much as possible.
A hot climate will only aggravate your postpartum swelling (or any other swelling for that matter), while cool climates will help you get rid of the problem.
So, you might have to stay indoors more than usual for the time being, and make use of some good ol’ air conditioning.
Experts also advise that you apply cold ice compresses to the swollen areas, especially if it’s for swelling in areas where you had a cesarean section or perineum incision. Ask your doctor or healthcare provider for details concerning how to do this the proper way to avoid complications or possible infections, though.
6) Physical Activity
Don’t underestimate the importance of physical activity and how much it’s able to help with your postpartum swelling.
You don’t necessarily have to do anything too vigorous, light exercise can get the job done just fine.
Improved blood circulation in your body because of exercise helps get rid of swelling in your feet and any other affected areas as well.
Not to mention that you’ll be getting rid of excessive fluid levels your body has recently retained through sweating during exercise.
Just make sure that you have your doctor’s approval before taking part in any kind of physical activity after giving birth, no matter how light it may be, to avoid any possible complications that no one wants to experience.
7) Foot Massages
Getting foot massages is an excellent way to improve blood circulation and, as a result, reduce swelling in that area.
The key is to gently start from the bottom of the feet and legs and gradually work your way upwards.
Do not get foot massages, though, if you notice that you’re feeling excessive levels of pain and discomfort or that it causes your swelling to get worse than it already is.
You can either get your partner or a family member to do these massages for you, or book a few professional massage sessions until you start feeling better.
8) Apply Cabbage
If you’ve ever had breast changes during pregnancy or after giving birth, you’ve surely been advised to apply cabbage to your breasts to decrease swelling.
Well, the same holds true when it comes to foot swelling after pregnancy as well.
Applying cabbage is as natural a remedy as it will ever get, and effectiveness is the same regardless of whether you choose white cabbage leaves or green cabbage leaves.
Here’s what you should do to get this method to work properly.
- Make sure the cabbage leaves are clean first just by giving them a thorough wipe. Do not wash them with water for cleaning purposes.
- Place the cabbage leaves in the refrigerator so that they become cold.
- After they become cold enough, take them out of the fridge and wrap them around the swollen areas on your feet, legs, etc ..
- Stop using the leaves you’re currently putting to use as soon as they become moist.
- Get new, fresh leaves and repeat the process again as much as necessary.
How does this help exactly, you might ask? Wrapping cabbage around a swollen area will draw out excessive fluids from that area which, in turn, decreases swelling.
9) Drink Herbal Tea
Unless there’s a valid reason why you shouldn’t be doing so, drink herbal tea in moderate amounts to flush out excessive levels of fluid in your body and decrease foot swelling post pregnancy as a result.
10) Avoid Tight Clothes
Now is not the time for you to be wearing tight fitting clothes, whether that’s clothes for your upper body or lower body.
Tight fitting clothes will only prevent proper blood circulation and, as a result, will lead to worsening your swelling.
11) Warm Showers
Taking a warm bath can help relieve your body from some of the swelling going on, but get approval from your doctor first that it’s safe for you to get exposed to high temperature water at the time.
12) No Smoking
If you’re a smoker, light smoker or heavy smoker and first hand smoker or second hand smoker, now is the time to give that bad habit up.
Smoking leads to poor blood circulation in the body, which makes your postpartum swelling worse, and causes all sorts of harm to your baby if you’re breastfeeding them.
Should I Take Medication To Reduce The Swelling?
Avoid taking any medication on your own for purposes of reducing the swelling. You should only ever take medication for this when instructed to do so by your doctor and under their guidance.
The wrong medication or the right medication taken in wrong dosages could make your condition much worse than it already is.
Not to mention the safety risks for your baby if you’re breastfeeding them during this phase.
A Quick Note About Increase In Foot Size
You should be able to differentiate between actual swelling in your feet during pregnancy and after delivery, and increase in the size of your feet – because these are two completely different things.
During pregnancy, you put on a lot of excess pounds all at once that your body is simply not used to handling, which puts a lot of stress on different parts of your body such as your back and your feet.
This excessive pressure your feet have to handle when supporting your extra weight often leads to some spreading and widening of the feet.
This is also a very normal occurrence during pregnancy (even though completely different than postpartum swelling), and almost always resolves itself on its own in a matter of time as well.
Unlike postpartum edema that usually goes away on its own after one week, your feet usually require around one month before getting back to their normal size.