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Swelling During Pregnancy

With your belly and breasts rounding out, the last thing you need during pregnancy is swelling anywhere else. But as most expectant moms know, that's exactly what happens when you have edema. Ankles become spongy; sausagelike feet throb; and that allover bloated feeling just won't go away.

What's happening? Your circulatory system is carrying up to 50 percent more blood and fluids than normal in order to meet your baby's need for nourishment, oxygen, and waste removal, says Joshua Copel, M.D., a professor of obstetrics at the Yale School of Medicine. Some of this fluid leaks via osmosis into surrounding tissues, and the growing uterus presses against pelvic veins, impeding blood flow in the lower body and squeezing more fluid into the legs and feet.

The key to minimizing edema is not getting rid of excess fluid, as many women think, but preventing blood from pooling in the veins. "Don't restrict liquids or salt or use diuretics," Copel says. Instead, lie on your left side or sit with your feet elevated so that the blood in your legs doesn't have to fight gravity in order to return to your heart. If you must stand for long periods, be sure to walk around or shift your weight from foot to foot. For a real break, try a cool footbath or a dip in the pool, since water pressure squeezes fluid out of the tissues and back into the veins. Finally, forgo tight socks and knee-high stockings, which can cut off circulation, in favor of maternity support hose, which helps prevent swelling.

One caution: Rapid swelling of your face or hands may be a sign of preeclampsia, a potentially dangerous high-blood-pressure condition that can lead to seizures. "If your eyes look puffy all of a sudden or if you can't take off your rings," Copel says, "call your doctor immediately."

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