Most people who enter pregnancy do so with the knowledge that their life and their body as they know it is likely to change — maybe not forever, but for a good long while.
If you’re pregnant, you probably know that your breasts are likely to become tender, your hair may become thicker and your skin may get glowier (lucky you). And of course pregnancy causes your belly to expand to accommodate your growing baby. But to most expecting parents’ surprise, your belly’s not the only thing about to undergo an expansion. In fact, plenty of your body swells for myriad reasons according to the American Pregnancy Association.
Here’s what else gets super-sized while you’re carrying your baby-to-be.
Your feet & ankles
If you’ve never heard of the term “cankles,” well, here they are. Why does pregnancy so often leave us feeling and looking like our legs lost their ankles entirely? “With upwards of 30 to 50 percent increase in total blood volume circulating through the pregnant woman’s body — 50 percent or more for twin pregnancies — to benefit the increased demands of a growing baby along with the weight of the uterus, the fluid moves down into the feet,” explains certified nurse midwife Risa Klein. This can be worsened by excessive periods of sitting or standing, she adds.
And while there’s not always a way to prevent ankle swelling during pregnancy, prenatal exercise, yoga, Pilates, dance and/or swimming can all help reduce stagnation of fluid and help reduce swelling, Klein explains. “I ask my clients to get up and stretch every hour if they sit at a desk job, and if they find themselves standing for longer than an hour, sit down and elevate their feet for 10 minutes to help redistribute the circulation up to the heart,” she says. Her best tip? “For safety and comfort, it’s a good idea to stay away from heels and wear open, supportive flats,” she adds.
Yep — they’re only going to get bigger as they prepare to feed your kid. During pregnancy, “the hormones prolactin and oxytocin initiate and sustain production of colostrum (early milk) and breast milk for the baby,” explains Klein. “Sometimes, women will even see the colostrum leak and crust as they approach their third trimester.”
While this can bring a bit of discomfort (or, you know, just regular-old leaky-nipple awkwardness), investing in a high-quality supportive nursing bra can help — as can natural breast pads to absorb leaks. “Some women may discover some swelling under their armpits,” Klein also explains. And while this can definitely be a simple milk leak in accessory mammary tissue, Klein urges pregnant people to make sure their doctors are abreast (sorry) of any and all body changes.
We’re talking the enlarged, swollen and often twisted kind: varicose veins. These tend to rear their head during pregnancy due to increased blood volume, Klein says. “Varicose veins are hereditary, so if your mom had them, you likely will too,” she says. But you can be proactive by wearing compression socks/stockings — “and try to elevate your feet whenever possible,” Klein says.
Your mouth & gums
“Increased blood volume also finds its way into pregnant women’s mouths and gums,” Klein explains, “with gums bleeding more often than usual.” This is also due to (surprise) increased hormones, which “allow for protective and increased blood circulation,” Klein says.
But don’t worry; once you deliver your baby, these discomforts should subside within a few months. In the meantime, try to brush your teeth gently. And if you’re really planning ahead, you can make a dentist appointment prior to pregnancy to take care of any possible procedures beforehand.
While your nose doesn’t necessarily change size during pregnancy (although it could!), you’re likely to feel an increase in internal nasal swelling/congestion. “There is nothing pathologic or dangerous about this; it’s a normal physiologic finding,” OB-GYN Dr. Diane Christopher at UCHealth Women’s Care Clinic assures us. “But sometimes, people can have more difficulty breathing or, if they have allergies and are congested, it can make things much worse.” Using a humidifier or a neti pot can help open nasal passageways, but Klein warns against using any products that contain pseudoephedrine, as this over-the-counter medication has been linked in research published in the American Journal of Epidemiology to risks of fetal birth defects if taken during pregnancy.
Oh, you bet. Especially as you get closer and closer to D-day. Perhaps you’re sitting for long periods of time or standing for too long; either can cause pooling of fluids and exacerbate labial swelling, Klein explains. To reduce labial swelling, she recommends avoiding tight, constrictive clothing and increasing Kegel muscle exercises, which help move circulation in the pelvic region. She adds, “Avoiding a sedentary lifestyle helps (barring any medical condition), [as do] exercises and programs such as prenatal exercises, yoga, pelvic rocking and swimming,” as well as wearing maternity compression support stockings that go up over the belly.
Some people notice that their hands swell during pregnancy. That’s totally normal, Christopher explains, as long as your blood pressure is not high. “Sometimes women will develop swelling in their wrists and arms, and that can lead to symptoms of carpal tunnel, which is numbness and tingling in their hands,” says Christopher. This can be problematic, she explains, because it can cause difficulty holding onto objects. The remedy, however, is relatively simple: Wear a brace at night to limit mobility of the wrist, which helps decrease some inflammation.
But although most swelling is simply part of the pregnancy package, if you do notice any sudden onset of swelling in your face, hands, legs, etc., over the course of a few days that is accompanied by a severe headache and vision changes, see your doctor right away, as these might be symptoms of preeclampsia, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
“Swelling in isolation that’s not new and by itself is pretty common and nothing to worry about,” says Christopher. “Most swelling will go down a week or two after birth; however, varicose veins in the legs are a different story.” She recommends waiting until you’re well out of the postpartum period before doing anything to treat them.