Swelling of the legs and feet during pregnancy

Swelling of the legs and feet during pregnancy
Nearly 80 percent of pregnant women develop swollen legs.

Mild swelling is normal during pregnancy, especially in the legs, ankles, and feet. Occasionally, it can spread to the fingers. Swelling affects nearly 80 percent of pregnant women.

It’s more common during the third trimester and usually goes away after delivery. Hot weather and long periods of sitting or standing can exacerbate the issue.


During pregnancy, the uterus expands, putting pressure on the main blood vessels in your abdomen and slowing your blood circulation. This can impede blood flow to the heart and cause blood to pool in the legs.

In addition, during pregnancy, hormonal changes increase the retention of certain minerals. One of these is sodium, which promotes water retention, leading to fluid accumulation in the lower limbs. All these factors can cause swelling of the legs and feet, also known as edema.

Preventing and relieving discomfort

Here are some tips to reduce swelling in your legs and feet.

  • Avoid standing or sitting for extended periods.
  • Avoid wearing clothes that are too tight around the waist and legs. Wear shoes that are one size larger than your usual size.
  • Sleep on your left side to relieve pressure on the veins that return blood from your lower limbs to your heart. You can also elevate your legs slightly with a pillow.
  • Elevate your feet and legs whenever you can.
  • Drink plenty of water to stay well hydrated. This will cause you to urinate more, which can help reduce the amount of fluid in your legs.
  • Do more physical activity.
    Pregnant women are advised to do 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week, divided into three 50-minute sessions. For example, walking or swimming are good options, as they promote blood circulation. What’s more, standing or walking in water may provide some relief.
  • Do the following foot exercises:
    - Bend and stretch each foot up and down. Repeat 30 times.
    - Rotate each foot 8 times in one direction, then 8 times in the other.
  • Inquire about the possibility of wearing compression stockings.

When should you speak with an expert?

Gradual, moderate swelling is not dangerous to you or your baby. However, a sudden increase in swelling may be a sign that something’s wrong. Swelling also becomes more concerning if you have high blood pressure and protein in your urine.

You should consult your doctor in the following cases:

  • The swelling suddenly spreads to your hands and face
  • You have a severe headache
  • Your vision becomes blurred
  • You experience significant pain under your ribs
  • You gain more than 0.9 kg (2 lb.) in 24 hours
  • You vomit

Things to keep in mind

  • Most pregnant women will experience swollen feet and legs.
  • Resting with your legs elevated can reduce the swelling.
  • If the swelling appears suddenly, spreads to your face, and is accompanied by a headache, blurred vision, or pain under the ribs, contact your doctor immediately.


Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Lise Ross, M.Sc., nurse, CHUM Birthing Centre
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: September 2020

 Photo: GettyImages/comzeal


  • Bamigboye, Anthony A., and Rebecca M. D. Smyth “Interventions for varicose veins and leg oedema in pregnancy.” Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, no. 10, 2015, art. no. CD001066.
  • Doré, Nicole, and Danielle Le Hénaff. From Tiny Tot to Toddler: A practical guide for parents from pregnancy to age two. Quebec City, Institut national de santé publique du Québec. www.inspq.qc.ca
  • Doyon, Odette, and Sophie Longpré. Évaluation clinique d’une personne symptomatique. ERPI, 2016.
  • Gwynne, Craig. “Swelling and painful feet: how to solve the most common foot problems when you’re pregnant.” The Conversation. www.theconversation.com
  • HealthLink BC. “Swelling during pregnancy.” www.healthlinkbc.ca
  • Lowdermilk, Deitra Leonard, et al. Soins infirmiers – Périnatalité. 2nd ed., Chenelière Éducation, Montreal, 2019.
  • Mayo Clinic. “What causes ankle swelling during pregnancy—and what can I do about it?” www.mayoclinic.org
  • NHS. “Swollen ankles, feet and fingers in pregnancy.” www.nhs.uk
  • Swamy, Geeta K., and R. Phillip Heine. “Swelling during late pregnancy.” Merck Manual Consumer Version. www.merckmanuals.com


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