Edema is the swelling from excess fluid being trapped between tissues in your body, and swelling of the legs, ankles, and feet can be severe enough to leave an indentation (pit), when you press on the area. If pressing the area causes an indentation that stays for some time after releasing, the edema is then referred to as a pitting edema. With pitting edema, pregnancy swelling can affect any part of your body, but it's more commonly noticed in the feet, ankles, legs, arms, and hands.

Is Pitting Edema During Pregnancy Normal?

Yes, it is normal and you don't need to worry about developing a pitting edema in pregnancy if you are otherwise healthy. During pregnancy, body fluids increase to nurture both you and your baby, and accumulate in your tissues. Normal swelling is experienced in the legs, ankles, hands, face, and feet. This retention of fluid is needed as the baby develops. The expanding uterus also causes pressure on the pelvic vein that is located on the right side of your body, and returns blood from your lower limbs back to the heart.

Why does It Happen?

1.       Blood Pooling

Pregnancy and swelling often go hand in hand. During pregnancy, the volume of fluid and blood circulating in your body increases dramatically. For that reason your small blood vessels are more likely to leak fluid into the nearby tissue, which is the root cause of pitting edema. As a result of fluid accumulation, you will notice swelling of the tissue, most often in your extremities and face.

2.       Increased Blood Pressure

As your baby grows and develops during the course of pregnancy, the expansion of the uterus can put a lot of pressure on the vena cava, which is a major blood vessel that performs the important function of returning blood from the legs to the heart. This additional pressure could cause your legs to swell, ending up as a pitting edema pregnancy.

3.       High Blood Pressure

Water retention and swelling of the legs usually takes place in people who are suffering from high blood pressure. Since this condition can be a major cause for concern in pregnancy, you need to get your blood pressure checked on a regular basis, especially in case you notice swelling in your legs.

4.       Low Salt Diet

The excess intake of salt could cause your legs to swell up, because of water retention. In case you notice the problem of edema during pregnancy, it is important for you to look at your diet and incorporate a few changes, if necessary. Make sure that you reduce your consumption of foods high in salt, such as salty snacks, processed meats, and condiments.

What Can You Do About It?

Assuming your pitting edema during pregnancy is not caused by an underlying condition, less severe swelling can be relieved by:

  • Wearing maternity compression stockings. Use the stockings first thing in the morning before fluids have a chance of pooling in your ankles, legs, and feet.
  • Wearing shoes that are flat, soft, and roomy.
  • Washing your feet daily, and drying between your toes.
  • Cutting your nails straight acrossand never shorter than the end of your toe. Special note: do not cut corns, or calluses.
  • Elevating your legs when possible. Ideally, they should be raised higher than the level of your heart for periods of 20 minutes throughout the day.
  • Soaking your feet in some warm water (not hot), to relieve the pressure on the blood vessels.
  • Avoiding resting your feet on a footstool while sitting, because it restricts circulation and is not effective.
  • Avoiding standing or sitting too long.
  • Avoiding crossing your legs.
  • Avoiding walking in bare feet.
  • Avoiding hot and cold temperatures, such as hot bath tubs, or hot foot soaks.
  • Avoiding tight socks and wristbands which may reduce circulation.

Mind Your Diet

You'll want to make dietary life-style adjustments, such as:

  • Restricting the intake of dietary salt, because it increases fluid retention.
  • Drinking plenty of fluids, at least 6-8 glasses of water or juice per day. Although this may seem counter-productive, it will help flush out excess fluids by keeping the kidneys functioning normally.
  • Eating cucumber and adding lemon to your water, both are natural diuretics.

Rest and Exercise

Get regular rest and exercise to boost circulation, such as:

  • Water aerobics, because the water pressure pushes the excess fluid back into the veins for dumping by the kidneys.
  • A brisk walk, because walking works the muscles, helping to pump excess fluids away until after delivery.
  • Sleeping on your left side, because this improves blood flow and circulation to your uterus, and lower extremities.

If your rings feel tight, take them off and put them away until after delivery. Remove them first thing in the morning after cooling your hands down in some cold water. Soap can help ease the process.

When Is Pitting Edema Dangerous?

Besides pitting edema, pregnancy that is accompanied by other symptoms may indicate a more serious underlying issue. Be aware of the following conditions:

1.       Preeclampsia

Severe edema may indicate an underlying life-threatening disorder called preeclampsia. Call your physician if you experience any of the following conditions:

  • Swelling in the face, including puffiness around the eyes and of the hands
  • General swells of the tissues, and not just of the feet and ankles
  • Sudden appearance or re-appearance of morning sickness
  • Sudden weight gain of more than 2 lbs in a week
  • Abdominal and shoulder pain
  • Severe headaches (migraine)
  • Lower back pain

Your physician will test for signs of high blood pressure, and excess protein in your urine before making a diagnosis.

2.       Blood Clot

If you notice that one leg is tender to the touch, and is more swollen than the other, call your health care provider. It may be a serious health condition (blood clot) called deep vein thrombosis.

3.       Heart Condition

Women who have been diagnosed with heart disease before or during pregnancy are usually more vulnerable to developing severe edema, and will be closely monitored by their physician.