Pregnancy is a time of big changes for the female body. It is magical knowing that you are growing a human being within your body, feeling those first kicks and seeing your baby develop at every scan. Pregnancy is also a time which creates stress on the female body, with increasing blood volume, increasing weight and increasing pressure in our pelvis which can bring on issues for our circulation. During pregnancy there are a number of changes that occur that place extra stress on our veins and lymphatics. Increase in blood volume, lower blood pressure, hormones and increased pressure in our pelvis from the increasing size of your growing baby all effect the veins and lymphatic vessels which often reduces the body’s ability to return blood and lymph to the circulation and stretches the veins in the legs. Women will usually see the effects of this as swelling which gets worse during the day and improves overnight, tired and heavy legs, swelling that’s worse when sitting or standing for long periods or when the weather is hot. This kind of swelling can lead to discomfort on a daily basis as well as long term issues such as varicose veins if not managed correctly.
What can you do to improve circulation during pregnancy?
Walking, swimming and cycling all encourage muscle pump activity on veins which helps to push fluid and blood back towards the heart more effectively. Maintaining muscle strength is also important to keep muscles pumping as effectively as possible, please see our blog on pelvic floor safe exercise during pregnancy for further information on resistance training.
Elevating your feet during the day can help to reduce the pull of gravity on your blood and fluids. This helps to encourage fluid to move back into the circulation and reduces swelling. Ideally you want to get your feet at or above the level of your heart if comfortable to do so.
3. Maintain a health weight
Extra weight places extra strain on our blood vessels and lymphatic vessels. If you are within the healthy weight range (BMI 18.5 to 24.9) then most women will gain around 11.5kg to 16kg during their pregnancy. For more information on nutrition during pregnancy visit Food & nutrition in pregnancy | The Royal Women Hospital (thewomens.org.au)
4. Eating a low salt diet
Too much salt in your body causes your body to hold onto fluids more and tends to increase swelling in both hands and legs. Try not to add extra salt to food where possible, we get enough salt in our diets without adding extra.
5. Maintaining hydration
Some people limit fluid intake to see if this will reduce swelling. This does not change the swelling as the body will tend to hold onto what fluid you do have to keep itself balanced. Limiting water intake can also lead to other issues including dehydration, constipation, irritate your bladder and worsen low blood pressure. Aim to drink 1.5 – 2 litres of water per day during pregnancy.
6. Medical compression
Compression tights and stockings can be very effective at reducing the strain on our veins and lymphatics. Compression increases the pressure on our legs which stops as much fluid from accumulating in the legs and also compresses veins and muscles meaning that as you move around during the day your fluid is pumped back to the circulation more effectively. For mild cases, we recommend using class 1 compression (18-21mmhg) during pregnancy, however if you have significant varicose veins from previous pregnancies or venous stress a higher grade (class 2) compression may be required. It is important that you choose compression that fits well as poor fitting compression garments can cause more harm than good. There are multiple brands and styles of compression to meet your needs. If you would like to book in to find out more about compression or to be measured for medical compression garments give us a call at Calm and Connection Physiotherapy today.
Remember… pregnancy is a wonderous and exciting time, and should not be feared, but looking after yourself and being comfortable are important and can lead to a healthier, happier pregnancy. (:
Be kind to yourself,