Really?! I don’t have to swell up like an Oompa Loompa at the end of my pregnancy? Yes! If you eat a clean and nutritious diet and follow some of these tips, you can avoid the dreaded swelling.
Why, oh Why all the Swelling?
First it is important to understand the causes of swelling, or edema. Anyone can experience edema since it is an inflammatory response to trauma or stress. When you injure a part of yourself, your body responds by sending fluids to help mend the hurt. It is also a normal response to being active in the heat. Your body wants to remain in balance and one way it does that is by regulating bodily fluids. Normally your kidneys work hard to keep excess fluid out of your tissues but when it’s hot, you might find yourself with swollen hands or feet because your body is guarding against dehydration and the hands and feet make great storage containers.
During pregnancy women create up to 50% more blood and bodily fluids to maintain homeostasis with the increasing demands of growing a baby. These fluids help nourish the mama and baby and help soften the body in preparation for expansion. It ins normal to experience slight swelling of the hands, feet and face during later pregnancy, but uncomfortable, excess swelling can be avoided so let’s explore tips for how to do just that.
What does a clean and nutritious diet mean? It means eating snacks and meals made from whole foods (not the store, the ingredients). Meals that begin with basic ingredients such as those you can pick from your garden or buy from the exterior sections of the grocery store including the produce aisle and meat or fish sections should make up the majority of your diet. The closer you can eat to the source of your food, the fewer additives in your meals. Most Americans get plenty of sodium in their diet without adding extra, but if the majority of your meals are made at home from scratch, consider salting to taste with high mineral content salt.
So what changes can you make to your diet to keep your fluid balance in the comfortable range?
1. Watermelon, watermelon, watermelon. The summery sweetness of a chilled watermelon not only refreshes you but it promotes optimal kidney function and serves as a diuretic helping eliminate that pesky extra fluid. It also can help ease constipation and is a good source of potassium which helps calm down the inflammatory process which adds additional edema-fighting goodness.
2. Cucumbers! Just like watermelon, cucumber has a high water content which helps to rehydrate a thirsty body. And remember that a thirsty body tries to conserve water by not creating urine and storing excess fluid in the extremeties. They also help lower the inflammatory response in the body.
3. Avoid Sugar. For so. many. reasons. Sugar causes inflammatory responses in the body which aggravates swelling. Sugar also undermines tissue integrity which weakens the vessels that carry the fluid around your body and the cells that house the fluid. This causes fluids to leak into your tissue. Replace treats made with refined sugar with fresh fruit.
4. Protein! Protein seems to be the magic answer to so many pregnancy related issues. The proteins help to hold salt and water inside the blood vessels so fluid does not leak out into the tissues. If a blood protein, called albumin, gets too low, fluid is retained and edema occurs, especially in the feet, ankles and lower legs. Shoot for 70-100 grams of protein a day.
- Exercise in general is healthy during pregnancy, helping ensure a strong mama and baby. It helps prevent or relieve swelling by causing the muscular movements that help move fluid around the body. A brisk 30 minute walk or light cardio routine 5 times a week is all that is needed. Even better, a 30 minute swim or 30 minutes walking in the pool can reduce and prevent swelling even better.
- Elevating your feet for 20-30 minutes after spending time standing or sitting for long periods will allow gravity to help pull the excess fluid back to your core.
- Soaking your feet in warm water with Epsom salt helps balance your fluid levels and can keep the pesky leg cramps at bay due to its high magnesium content.
While swelling of the feet at the end of pregnancy can signal that you are about to go into labor (consider it your body’s IV fluids) or be a result of the increased weight of the uterus causing the fluid to back up in your lower extremities, sudden swelling of your face, neck or legs is a reason to contact your healthcare provider.