Postpartum Edema: What It Is and How to Treat It

After delivery, you may notice some swelling in your face, legs, arms, and feet. Learn about postpartum edema, including what it is, how it's caused, and how to relieve pressure and swelling.

Though most parents are well aware of how their body changes while pregnant, many don’t realize that your body is still changing – even after delivery! Though your body may begin returning to its pre-pregnancy form after delivery, your breast size and shape will likely change as your body begins to produce and express breast milk. You may also experience puffiness and swelling in your ankles, wrists, legs, feet, and arms. But try not to stress about any unexpected puffiness, mama! This swelling, known as postpartum edema, is the result of excess fluids (mostly water) accumulated during pregnancy.

Though mild postpartum edema is normal, it's still uncomfortable for many women. Fortunately, there are many things you can do at home to help reduce pressure and swelling.

What is Postpartum Edema?

During pregnancy, you produce 50% more body fluids to support your growing baby. After delivery, most women retain about 6 pounds of natural fluids in addition to any IV fluids administered during labor. If you had a vaginal delivery, the effort from pushing causes those fluids to move throughout your body. That’s why you may have a puffy face after baby arrives while the rest of the fluids move to your legs and feet.

The only way these fluids dissipate is through urination and sweat, so it's normal for swelling to last one to two weeks post-delivery. 

How to Reduce Postpartum Swelling

While postpartum swelling may be uncomfortable, there are natural ways to alleviate your discomfort and speed up your recovery time. Here are some things you can do right now to feel better:

Wear Compression Stockings

Compression stockings are designed to increase circulation in your legs, stimulating blood flow and preventing fluids from pooling in your lower legs.

When choosing a compression stocking, the sock should feel snug but not uncomfortable, and you should choose a style that ends directly below your knee. Because they are more effective at preventing swelling than relieving existing swelling, you should put the stockings on at the beginning of the day.

Move Around

Light exercise and moving around stimulates blood circulation and can reduce swelling. If you had a vaginal birth without complications, you should be able to begin exercising lightly relatively soon – be sure to check with your doctor to find out when you may be cleared to begin a light exercise routine. Not only will light exercise reduce swelling, but it also reduces the risk of blood clots and cardiovascular disease. If you had a cesarean section, you should start walking as soon as your doctor approves it and you feel comfortable, with a return to regular exercise later. Gentle yoga, Pilates, and other low-impact exercises are some of the best ways to get moving again after delivery.

Of course, be mindful of your body and its limitations as you heal. If exercise leaves you feeling uncomfortable or in pain, stop immediately and talk to your doctor about it. 

Schedule a Postpartum Massage

One of the most rewarding ways to reduce swelling in your body is to treat yourself to a postpartum massage. This can shift fluids from your extremities back into your bloodstream, where your body can dispose of them quickly.

When scheduling a massage, make sure the masseuse has experience with postpartum patients and understands techniques like lymphatic drainage.

Drink Water Often

Consuming more fluids to reduce swelling caused by excess fluids may seem counterintuitive, but it's essential to drink plenty of water during the postpartum period and as you begin your breastfeeding journey. 

Water pushes toxins directly to the kidneys, which helps reduce swelling throughout the body. In addition, it's important to stay hydrated because dehydration encourages the body to retain fluids. Hydration is also a key component to a strong milk supply, so keep a water bottle nearby to sip on often.

Elevate Your Legs

Elevating your legs prevents fluids from building up in your extremities. Whenever you are sitting or lying down, prop your legs up on a pillow or chair. Ideally, you want them elevated above your heart to keep blood pumping evenly throughout your body.

Taking Care of Yourself Postpartum

If you feel puffy or swollen a week or two after delivery, it's usually a totally normal occurrence and nothing to worry about. However, if you notice swelling that comes on quickly or you are in pain, there could be an underlying problem, and you should contact your doctor immediately.

As your life with your new little one unfolds and you spend your days (and nights!) caring for baby, ensure that you’re making time to take good care of yourself too. Remember, when mama is feeling good, your baby will feel good too!

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