Tips for Soothing Swollen Feet and Legs During Pregnancy

Sollen, achy feet are par for the course—but there are some easy, effective ways to deal with the pain.
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By Micky Marie Morrison, PT, ICPFE, Contributing Writer
Updated August 6, 2020
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Pregnancy can be uncomfortable, to say the least. The only thing worse than trying to maneuver around with your growing bump is trying to do so with swollen, achy feet and legs—and unfortunately they’re a common symptom during pregnancy and the early days of postpartum recovery. But why do your feet and legs tend to swell, and how can you find some relief?

During pregnancy, your body produces roughly 50 percent more blood and fluid to meet baby’s needs, often causing swelling in the feet, ankles and legs. The weight of the growing baby and uterus also puts pressure on the veins that pass through the pelvis carrying blood back to the heart, impeding circulation and contributing to the swelling. The swelling can also cause your legs to feel heavy and achy. Combined with the lax ligaments in the hips, pelvis and feet joints during pregnancy, leg pain is also a common pregnancy-related complaint.

The good news? There’s a lot you can do to help alleviate swollen, achy feet and legs! Here are a few helpful, easy-to-do tips:

1. Get your legs up. Try to put your feet up above the level of the heart several times throughout the day for a few minutes at a time. If you can manage to do it once an hour, it will work wonders. If you work at a desk job, try to at least get your feet up onto another chair or a stool.

2. Move those feet. The muscles in your legs work like a pump to move fluid upward toward your heart, so moving your feet while you have them propped up maximizes the effect. If you’re able to lie down with your feet up against a wall and make circles with your feet for three to five minutes, three to five times a day, you’ll make major progress toward curing your swollen feet. Doing other simple foot and ankle exercises like the ones below can also help pump the fluid out of your feet and lower legs.

3. Stretch. Stretching out the calf muscles and exercising the toes will help prevent charley horse cramps and achy feet. Try the gentle, effective exercises featured in the video below.

4. Sleep on your side. It can be tough at first for habitual back-sleepers, but sleeping on your side (ideally your left side) will keep pressure off the veins carrying blood back to your heart.

5. Limit salt. Leave the shaker on the table to avoid retaining even more excess fluids.

6. Stay cool. Swelling is worse in high temperatures. Fans, air-conditioning and even a refreshing swim are all your friends in pregnancy.

7. Wear compression stockings. If you have to be on your feet for hours throughout the day, or if you experience persistent swelling even after trying other forms of relief, try wearing knee-high or thigh-high compression tights. These special socks have graduated pressure from the foot upward to help prevent the pooling of fluid in the feet and lower legs. You can snag standard compression socks at pharmacy stores or Amazon, but if you have significant swelling, you can ask your doctor for a prescription for special compression stockings.

In rare instances, swelling and pain in the legs can indicate a serious condition. If you have swelling or pain in only one leg or if swelling comes on suddenly, you should contact your doctor immediately.

Micky Marie Morrison is a licensed physical therapist with 15 years experience in women’s health and pediatrics. She is an International Childbirth Education Association certified perinatal fitness educator, founder of the prenatal and postpartum exercise program CoreMama and online resource BabyWeight.TV, author of Baby Weight: The Complete Guide to Prenatal and Postpartum Fitness a mother of two.

Please note: The Bump and the materials and information it contains are not intended to, and do not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis and should not be used as such. You should always consult with a qualified physician or health professional about your specific circumstances.

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