Swollen ankles in pregnancy can be debilitating. And it’s common. The official term for this swelling is oedema (or the US spelling is edema) and occurs not only in your legs, feet and ankles. Your hands may also swell when you’re pregnant and your face.

So, let’s look at why you experience swelling in pregnancy and how you can ease its effects.

Swollen ankles and general swelling in pregnancy

We swell when fluid accumulates in our tissues. It’s more likely to happen when we’re pregnant because this is when our body produces approximately 50% more blood and other body fluids. These are to feed our growing baby.

Besides this excess of normal fluid, there are additional reasons we we’re more likely to experience swollen ankles and other extremities during pregnancy.

Growing uterus. Our uterus grows in line with our baby. This increase in size affects our circulation and how efficiently blood can return to our heart and creates symptoms which are often only temporary but mimic what happens when we have congestive heart failure.

Hormones change. The altered balance of our hormones mean that we’re more predisposed to holding onto fluid. Which leads us onto our third point…

Fluid retention. we just keep more fluid when we’re pregnant, anyway. If you think about the extra load one body supporting two lives puts on our system, some activities just slow down as there’s only so much energy which our system can pull on to run.

You’re more likely to notice swollen feet and ankles from mid-pregnancy onwards with it increasing towards the end of your third trimester.

Sleeping or resting on your left side improves the symptoms. This is because it reduces the pressure on the large vein that carries blood from your lower extremities back to your heart. This is also why it’s suggested that you could sleep with your legs elevated up on a pillow.

Foods That Cause Swelling

If you look down at your ankle and you notice it’s doubled the size. It may be that you’ve just eaten something that has exacerbated the problem. Maybe you could eat and drink whatever you want without effect. But now, because of the extra workload your body has with its pregnancy, you’ll be more likely to suffer the effects so think about avoiding some below:

Salt. Avoid adding table salt to foods is a nice easy win. Plus, you could read food labels which will help you identify sodium, which is salt, as sodium causes your body to retain water.

Processed foods. Processed foods include a wide range of items from crisps and pre-packaged goodies to meats such as ham and bacon down to canned foods. The list is long but worth considering as these foods are high in trans-fat which can lead to oedema.

Caffeine. Caffeine is in coffee, tea (including green tea) and fizzy drinks. It speeds up the time that water takes to pass through our system, thus reducing the time that our body has to extract what it needs from it. This leads to dehydration, which causes water retention. It’s also a superb idea to avoid carbohydrates and sugars because simple sugars in our diet may also lead to us retaining water.

Foods That Reduce Swelling

Including the right balance of vitamins and minerals from including fresh fruit and vegetables in your diet helps keep those swollen ankles at bay. And that’s not just during your pregnancy. Lean meats. Turkey and chicken are high in protein, which helps balance fluid in our tissues.

Also, be sure to take a daily prenatal vitamin. These will help both you and your baby stay healthy.

If food is high in potassium, this may help reduce swelling in your feet and ankles as well as your face. This keeps your body balanced chemically (which are hormones). You can find potassium in e.g. bananas, sweet potatoes, kidney beans and avocado.

It often surprises our clients are often when we tell them that drinking plenty of water helps flush your body out and thus reduces water retention.

Drink water to reduce water retention

This is due to the way the lymphatic system works. It needs water to function optimally. Or movement. When we’re pregnant, women are getting less exercise, such as walking, within our daily lifestyle, and also, we’re likely to drink less due to needing the loo more.

The effects are compound. We’re not moving as much so our joints become stiff. This stiffness means moving is then even more difficult and the lack of exercise in the long term can lead to tissue damage because of the effect of a buildup of toxins. The natural cleansing process of our body would normally remove these.

Manual lymphatic drainage massage is effective at reducing puffy limbs including ankles, feet, legs, hands and our face. It simply mimics what our body would do on its own. You can book a manual lymphatic drainage massage therapy online to help your body reduce swelling.

Should I Be Concerned About Swelling?

Swelling of our extremities is common during pregnancy and mostly means nothing sinister. However, there are some times when you should pay more attention and as always, we recommend that if you have any kind of doubt, always contact your medical practitioner.

  • Sudden onset of swelling in your hands or face. It may accompany this with a headache or change in vision.
  • If you have swelling but also chest pains, shortness of breath or continuous coughing. You should always know oedema could be a sign of preeclampsia.
  • When one leg or ankle displays more swelling than the other, along with pain.

These are urgent red flags you shouldn’t ignore so get in touch with your doctor. Better safe than sorry.  Whilst we’re talking about health issues whilst pregnant, let’s not forget gestational diabetes. This often comes with no long-standing symptoms and is picked up by blood tests at your doctors. You can also ease your chance of getting this by watching your diet as you’re more at risk if you’re overweight with a high body fat percentage.

Swelling After Birth

It’s also common to suffer with swollen ankles and feet after you have given birth. It usually relates to labour medication along with a shift in your hormones. You were pregnant and now your body needs to adjust to not being pregnant anymore. This is also why we often get postnatal depression.

Reflexology can be a great treatment for re-balancing our hormones after we have given birth. Particularly if you’re breast feeding and want to avoid medications.

A note on swollen ankles when you’re not pregnant.

Swollen ankles or limbs of any kind can be a sign of seriously underlying health conditions and diseases. If you experience oedema, it can show e.g. liver failure, serious infection or a problem with how your lymph fluid moves around your system. These can cause further health issues, which can be avoided if you treat the issues promptly. Please never ignore the signs your body is giving you that something isn’t right.

There are certain factors that can mean you’re more predisposed to swollen ankles, feet, legs, hands and face.

Being overweight is one of these. This may or may not be accompanied by a chronic risk of deep vein thrombosis (DVT) and varicose veins.

To book in for a manual lymphatic drainage massage to reduce swollen ankles or any other limb, book online now. For re-balancing hormones after giving birth, and avoiding or easing post partum depression, here’s what you need.