7 ways to ease late-pregnancy swelling

I am in my 36th week of pregnancy and I'm retaining water. I have been to my doctor and have normal blood pressure and haven't had any headaches or any other problems that could indicate preeclampsia. Do you have any suggestions?

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Peg Plumbo CNM

Peg Plumbo has been a certified nurse-midwife (CNM) since 1976. She has assisted at over 1,000 births and currently teaches in the... Read more

Blood volume doubles during pregnancy and women generally are more thirsty, so more fluids are consumed. While these changes are normal and necessary, they mean a lot more fluid is circulating. Pregnant women experience dilation in the blood vessels, especially in the lower extremities, and "pooling" of blood, which causes edema (swelling).

The best way to deal with excess fluid is not to restrict it, but to mobilize it. Keep it from staying in areas that cause the most discomfort, such as in the legs, feet, fingers and abdomen. Assisting the kidney function is one way of doing this. Rest and fluids are the two best ways to help the kidneys rid themselves of excess fluid.

1. Put your feet up. Keep your legs elevated whenever possible. And don't cross your legs! Any time you get off your feet, pressure is reduced on the inferior vena cava and the iliac veins, so the blood can get back up and not pool in the extremities. Renal blood flow is improved as well.

2. Lie down. It is important to rest on your left side as much as possible. Not just at night, but for several 30-minute periods throughout the day.

3. Drink up. Have at least six to eight, eight ounce glasses of water, juice or milk every day. This keeps the kidneys functioning properly.

4. Take a walk. When you're not resting, exercise. Women who exercise have fewer symptoms of the common problems associated with pregnancy, including swelling. It seems to redistribute the retained fluids. Brisk walking is the best form of exercise for pregnancy (I know its difficult to do anything briskly in your last month).

5. Dress comfortably. Avoid constrictive clothing.

6. Salt food to taste.It used to be customary to ask women to decrease salt during pregnancy. Now we recommend that you salt food to taste -- but do stay away from heavily cured meats and salty snacks.

7. Wear support stockings. If swelling is a big problem for you support stockings, designed for pregnancy, can be helpful. Make sure you are fitted properly and wear them according to the directions.

8. See your care provider regularly. Make sure you check in every week until your baby is born. Swelling could precede other symptoms of preeclampsia.

There is a relationship between bloating (swelling or edema) and preeclampsia, especially in a first pregnancy. If you have no other signs (protein in the urine, pitting edema of the legs -- where you can indent the area over the shin bone -- or symptoms, such as headaches, rapid or excessive weight gain, visual changes, abdominal pain or dizziness, then the bloating may well be one of the common discomforts of pregnancy.

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