Swelling During Pregnancy: Dangerous or Normal?

If you're pregnant, you've probably got swollen ankles. Swelling isn't always a reason to worry, but pitting edema is - call your health care provider if you're worried. Image by Decoded Pregnancy

If you’re pregnant, you’ve probably got swollen ankles. Swelling isn’t always a reason to worry, but pitting edema is – call your health care provider if you’re worried. Image by Decoded Pregnancy

I’m a month away from my due date and my feet and ankles are getting swollen. My mother says it’s just from the heat and that it is normal; however, my friend said when she had swelling during pregnancy she needed an emergency C-Section. How do I know if my swelling is normal or not?

Signed, Lost my Ankle Bones in Florida

Dear Missing Ankles,

I know exactly how you feel. With the temperatures rising, rest assured you are not the only pregnant woman who is experiencing some swelling.

Retaining Water During Pregnancy

Generally speaking, the fluid retention that causes mild swelling the last few weeks in pregnancy is a normal defense mechanism against blood loss during childbirth. Your body will be able to quickly replace lost fluids and begin breastfeeding at the same time, with these fluid stores in place.


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However, there are conditions in pregnancy where excessive swelling is a huge cause for concern. Excessive swelling can be a major symptom of pre-eclampsia. If there’s a chance that you might be developing pre-eclampsia, call your health care provider. Pre-eclampsia is dangerous to mom and baby, so your doctor will take blood tests to test for the condition right away.

So, what are the differences between normal and worrisome swelling?

  • Normal Swelling in Pregnancy: Normal swelling is usually limited to the feet and ankles only. It generally gets worse after long periods of standing or sitting upright (like driving a long distance or flying.) Normal swelling usually decreases after resting, especially resting with your feet raised. Also, normal swelling will not usually leave a pitting edema mark in the skin.
  • Worrisome Swelling in Pregnancy: A major sign of worrisome swelling is pitting edema, which is described above. Severe headaches and visual disturbances (flashes or blurry vision) are also warning signs that you should contact your doctor or midwife about immediately. Another warning symptom of serious swelling during pregnancy is swelling that extends above the feet and legs; if you find your face, hands or arms are swelling, contact your health care provider.

Pregnancy Swelling

Nearly 75% of pregnant women experience swelling during the last trimester of their pregnancy and most of the time it is relieved by good posture, massage, staying cool and rest. However, when pre-eclampsia develops, swelling is merely one symptom of a more serious condition. When in doubt, a call to your care provider is never amiss. He or she will discuss your symptoms over the phone and decide whether to schedule an appointment to be checked out.

Preeclampsia. Welcome to the Preeclampsia Organization. (2013). Accessed June 11, 2013.

Davison, J. Edema in Pregnancy. (1997). Kidney International Supplements. Accessed June 11, 2013.

© Copyright 2013 Angela England: Childbirth, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Pregnancy
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