Most women experienced Edema, or swelling, during their pregnancy, in their hands, feet, ankles, calfs, and face, but few realize that swelling is a postpartum symptom that can cause discomfort as well.
Luckily, swelling post baby usually only lasts for about a week and will be one of the last things on your mind as you are caring for your newborn.
There are a few things you need to know about postpartum swelling to make the first week postpartum easier on both you and your new baby.
What Causes Postpartum Swelling
During pregnancy, your body produces 50% more blood and fluid to sustain the fetus and aid in growth and development.
Not all of the excess blood and fluids exits the body during the delivery. Considering the hormonal fluctuations the body is going through at the same time this can lead to swelling during and after pregnancy.
Although you may expect your body to return to its pre-pregnancy state quickly after birth, swelling actually tends to increase postpartum. This can lead to tenderness and even some pain and discomfort at the site of swelling.
Some women who experience very mild swelling during pregnancy may even see more severe swelling postpartum.
This is due to the high levels of progesterone that are produced during pregnancy which causes sodium and water retention.
During your pregnancy, your uterus is also expanding which is putting pressure on the veins that lead into your legs which restricts blood flow to your feet and legs causing fluid build up to your lower body.
Swelling at the extremities of your bodies (hands and feet) can also be caused from the act of delivery itself.
During the birthing process, the physical act of pushing during vaginal birth floods your extremities with excess blood and fluid which causes swelling that does not immediately go away after delivery.
IV fluids will also cause general swelling due to the push of fluids entering the body at a higher than normal rate.
Moms that had C-sections will also notice swelling at the incision site for the first few days post operation.
This swelling, as with any major surgery, is normal and common, although painful. Your care team should be regularly checking your incision while you are hospitalized and be able to help you with your pain management plan.
How Can I Reduce Swelling at Home?
Swelling while pregnant would have made it uncomfortable to walk and complete normal everyday tasks, and leaves you feeling bloated and tight.
The same feelings occur postpartum - which is frustrating! Especially while trying to care for your new baby.
Although the swelling you are experiencing should not last longer than a week or so, there are some actions you can take at home to reduce your postpartum Edema and make the symptoms more manageable.
Eating a healthy, clean, balanced diet is one of the most important actions you can take for maintaining your health postpartum.
Reducing the amount of processed, sugary and salty foods that you eat will help you feel better, and will give your body the fuel it needs in aid of the recovery process. This will in turn reduce the amount of swelling you have faster.
You should eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and complex carbohydrates.
Although it may seem counterintuitive, it is important to take in lots of fluids and ensure you are staying hydrated.
The more water you drink, the easier it will be for the excess water to be released and the swelling to reduce.
If you aren’t sure if you are drinking enough water, measure how often you are emptying your bladder. You should aim to be urinating every 4-6 hours while you are awake.
Moving around more than necessary may seem uncomfortable at first. But gently increasing your activity level will improve circulation and blood flow. This will help your body flush out that excess fluid fast.
Check with your doctor of course before starting any kind of exercise routine, and always work out well within yourself. Your body has a lot of internal healing to do even if you do not feel any direct discomfort.
The same home remedy that you have probably heard since you were a kid that deals with swelling still applies. Get your feet up!
Elevate your feet and ankles about heart level to reduce fluid buildup and make circulation easier on your heart.
You should also wear lose fitting clothing and take off any jewelry that may be tight fitting.
Taking a bath postpartum requires the approval of your doctor, but this can help reduce swelling by taking weight off your joints and relaxing your muscles.
Warm baths can reduce discomfort and swelling at perineum and C-section incisions as well.
Take care not to apply lotion or vitamin E until after the healing process is well underway.
Things to Avoid
There are several potential causes of swelling during pregnancy and after that you should avoid to reduce your risk of severe or sudden swelling:
Combat Postpartum Edema with Diet
The best natural way to combat the symptoms of Edema is through the proper diet.
Salt consumption is the number one water retainer and causes the most swelling in the body.
Avoid adding salt to your food and use other spices, lemon juice or vinegar to add flavour instead. You should also avoid foods that are high in salt such as processed meats, fast foods, foods high in preservatives and trans fats.
Other foods that cause water retention are refined sugars and flours such as white bread, pasta and rice, and packaged baked goods such as cookies, cakes, donuts, and crackers. All the food that common sense says is bad for you.
Alcohol and tobacco products should also be avoided for a hundred health risks, but also for their swelling and water retention properties.
There are specific foods that you can incorporate into your diet that will cut down on the swelling and help you get more comfortable.
Whole grains, leafy greens like kale, spinach and romaine, asparagus, green beans, leeks, onion, and pumpkin are all great diuretics.
You should also switch to all lean, white meats such as chicken, turkey and fish instead of red meat like beef. There are also several fruits that are known to reduce inflammation.
These are the most colorful produce items and include nearly all the berries—strawberries, blueberries, cherries, blackberries, raspberries, tomatoes, squash, and all the different bell peppers.
When to Call a Doctor
Although swelling postpartum is normal for most women, there are several signs that could be precursors for more serious conditions and problems and should prompt a call to the doctor right away.
If you experience any of the symptoms listed below, call your doctor immediately.
These could be signs of blood clots, infections, and even preeclampsia with can occur up to four weeks postpartum unbeknownst to most women.
This is just another part of the transition your body will make after the birth of your child. You can accelerate this process through the steps discussed above, and take those positive steps to get your lifestyle back to one of health and vitality.
Always remember to listen to your body though and if you feel things are not right, seek out medical assistance right away.