Water Retention During Pregnancy: What Causes It and What Can You Do About It?
No doubt about it – your body changes when you’re pregnant. Under the direction of hormones, your body becomes an incubator for the tiny being growing inside you. It’s you who provides your growing baby with nourishment, just as you’ll do after he or she is born. Unfortunately, the hormonal changes that take place when you’re pregnant can also cause some undesirable changes. One of the more common ones is water retention.
How Does It Happen?
When you’re pregnant, the amount of fluid in your body expands. When this takes place, usually after the 20th week of pregnancy, you might notice that your feet and ankles swell, especially after standing or sitting for a prolonged time. The swelling is usually worse at the end of the day. You may notice puffiness and fluid retention around your eyes as well. The swelling and puffiness, also known as edema, is more pronounced in the summer when it’s hot outside. Needless to say, being pregnant in the warm weather has its challenges!
Why Water Retention Happens
Hormones are one factor that contributes to water retention during pregnancy. Another one has to do with the size of your uterus. As your uterus enlarges, it compresses the large veins that carry blood and fluid back to your heart. As a result, fluid can’t as easily travel back to the heart and it accumulates in your calves and feet.
When Should You Worry?
Although it’s normal to have water retention during pregnancy, a sudden increase in swelling can be a sign of a serious condition called pre-eclampsia where your blood pressure rises as well. If you have a rapid increase in swelling or develop other symptoms such as an increase in blood pressure, headache, blurred vision, or difficulty breathing, get evaluated right away.
Swelling in one leg only or when one leg is swollen more than the other, it can be a sign of a blood clot, a condition that’s more common during pregnancy. Blood clots can pass to the lung and be fatal. If you notice greater swelling in one leg, relative to the other, if you experience swelling in the hands, or if you have calf or leg pain or tenderness, see your doctor right away.
How to Reduce Water Retention
- Especially late in pregnancy, you may not be able to completely control water retention but here are some things that may help:
- Reduce the amount of salt in your diet. Sodium worsens fluid retention. Make sure you’re eating plenty of potassium-rich fruits and vegetables.
- Avoid standing or sitting for long periods of time.
- Stay out of the heat as much as possible – and don’t forget to drink plenty of fluids.
- When you’re sitting, elevate your legs.
- Wear loose, comfortable clothing. Elastic support stockings may help the swelling but they can also be uncomfortable to take on and off.
- When lying in bed, lie on your left side. This shift some of the pressure off the veins in your lower body.
- Take a walk. Walking helps to return fluid back to the heart and reduce swelling.
The Bottom Line
Water retention and swelling are common when you’re pregnant. A sudden increase in swelling, swelling in your arms, or swelling in one leg only is not. If you develop these symptoms, get evaluated right away.
American Pregnancy Association. “Swelling During Pregnancy”
Pre-Eclampsia Foundation. “Signs and Symptoms”