Swelling during pregnancy is not a surprise for the expecting mothers. In fact, most of them are aware that their fingers, feet, face, ankle and lower back can swell and increase their discomforts in the course of pregnancy. What they do not expect is that they may continue to experience swelling even after delivery. Sometimes the degree of swelling can increase and create more discomfort than pregnancy period as it obviously gets in the way of the tasks of motherhood. This postpartum swelling is also known as edema.
Edema can occur after vaginal delivery or C- section.
What Are The Symptoms Of Postpartum Edema?
The severity of the symptoms of postpartum swelling can vary with each new mother (ranging from mild to extreme). The symptoms of postpartum swelling include:
- The tissue, specifically under the skin appears puffed or swollen
- The skin of the extremities can appear stretched, puffy or shiny
- The skin can hold a dimple if you push on it for a few seconds
- The swelling can also appear in the area of the scar of the C-section or where the episiotomy was done
- More often the swelling is found to concentrate in the feet and hands. Sometimes it can appear on the legs, ankle or even abdomen
What Causes Postpartum Swelling?
Postpartum swelling is partially due to physiological changes that happen in the course of pregnancy (mainly because of water retention) and partially due to the delivery process itself.
Some of the reasons behind postpartum swelling are:
- Influence of intravenous fluids: The IV fluids taken in the course of delivery can trigger postpartum swelling. During a C-section, the anesthesia or other medicines are usually received by the mother through the IV. And at times, during vaginal birth also medications are induced through IV. These excess fluids that get into the body of the mother will take some time to eliminate from the body, resulting in postpartum swelling
- Body changes that happen in the course of pregnancy: Hormonal fluctuation that takes place after delivery can trigger postpartum swelling. The body produces higher-than-ordinary levels of the hormone progesterone amid pregnancy. Progesterone makes the body hold both sodium and water, resulting the body to retain more water.
In the course of pregnancy, the growing uterus presses against the veins (mostly) going towards the legs, limiting blood flow towards the legs and feet. It can also squeeze the blood vessels going to the hands, abdomen or even back of the body. Anyway, the capillaries in that area start to leak the fluid which accumulates in the surrounding tissue thus giving rise to swelling. All the liquid which develops over the nine months of pregnancy doesn’t leave all at once after the delivery. This results in postpartum swelling
- The delivery process: Besides the above reasons, the procedure of pushing the baby which is fundamental for a vaginal birth will send more quantities of blood and fluids into the extremities. This can bring about swelling in hands, feet, legs or even the face
When Will The Postpartum Swelling Disappear?
We all know that the blood volume increases in the course of pregnancy. Around 50% more blood is produced during pregnancy. Obviously, all this extra blood and the fluids produced by the body will not leave the body all at once during or after delivery. It will take a little more time for the body to eliminate the extra fluid from its system.
Usually, postpartum swelling resolves itself and disappears within a week after delivery. The kidneys play a major role in resolving the postpartum swelling in a week as they actively eliminate the excess fluid by increasing the frequency of urination. In addition to this, after delivery, the body of the new mother sweats more so that the extra liquids will be discharged through the pores as sweat.
Is Postpartum Swelling Ever Serious?
Postpartum swelling is normally nothing to be worried about, and will go away on its own within a week. However, it is better to consult your doctor if:
- The swelling is not showing any signs of going away even after a week
- If your legs are paining or in case you are experiencing awful headaches. These can be an indication of high blood pressure
- Seek immediate medical attention if the swelling appears in only one leg or ankle, especially if accompanied with severe pain, as it can be an indication of a significant issue – ‘deep vein thrombosis'(blood clot in blood vessels)
What Are The Remedies To Ease Postpartum Swelling?
Even though mostly postpartum swelling resolves its own, there are some tips that you can use to ease the discomfort:
- Dietary supplements: Including potassium rich food like banana in the diet helps the swelling to subside soon.
- Elevation: Elevating the hands, leg, ankles, or feet above the level of the heart will help the postpartum swelling in the lower part of the mother’s body to disappear soon
- Massage: Massaging the swelled area (only if there is no pain at all) helps to ease the postpartum swelling. Massaging with oil (preferably Ayurveda) definitely gives good results
- Avoiding food with high sodium content
- Staying hydrated: Though most of us think that drinking water will increase the chances of water retention, actually, it aids in expelling extra fluids from the body. Just remember that the more you drink the more your body flushes out
- Posture postulation: Try to maintain a healthy posture while feeding, sitting, sleeping, etc. lying on the side will increase the blood circulation thereby alleviating the swelling
- Exercising: Doing mild exercises like walking will make the swelling disappear fast. If you are physically okay and delivered vaginally, try water aerobics (mild ones) as it is found to ease the swelling in many instances. If you used to do yoga, stretching positions (other than extreme ones) will increase blood circulation and eventually the swelling will disappear
- Soaking feet: A few drops of a good aromatherapy oil mixed in water can be used for soaking feet. It is very relaxing and will relieve you off swelling
- Cabbage leaves: Placing green or white cabbage leaves over the swollen areas helps to draw out excess fluids from the site and relieve the discomfort. Without using water, clean the leaves and refrigerate them before wrapping them around the swollen extremities
- Avoid heat: Heated conditions will only worsen fluid retention and hence swelling. Thus try to stay cool by staying indoors in appropriate temperatures
As a precautionary measures, avoid wearing tight clothes that may restrict the blood flow to any part of the body. You can wear supportive socks to relieve discomfort.