What to Expect (from Your Feet) When You’re Expecting
Let’s be honest:
You knew the nine months of pregnancy wasn’t going to be a walk in the park—but you probably didn’t realize it was going to affect your feet so much, right?
Hey, that’s completely understandable.
After all, you’re just a bit preoccupied with everything going on.
But since we brought it up, you might very well be wondering now:
How does pregnancy affect my feet?
Let’s take a look at what you can expect—from a foot-related perspective—when you’re expecting. Or perhaps this will help explain what you’ve already been experiencing.
Either way, we’ve taken the time to identify some of the foot issues that are common during pregnancy.
Your shoes don’t fit like they did pre-pregnancy.
This is a fairly common occurrence for pregnant women—shoes that you were once able to slide your feet into rather easily now require a little extra effort.
There are a couple main factors that explain why this happens:
- The additional weight gain during pregnancy can cause feet to widen.
- Your body releases a hormone intended to make the birthing process easier—please note, we aren’t saying “easy”—by relaxing certain body tissues. An unintended consequence of this is that the hormone loosens connective tissues in the feet.
- You’re experiencing swelling in your lower limbs. (Hold that thought for just a moment!)
Since proper shoe fit is so important for preventing an array of foot and ankle issues, you should expect your feet to change shoe sizes during pregnancy. If at any point you find your footwear to be fitting tighter than they previously had been, it’s time to buy a new pair.
As you would at any other time, have your feet measured and then buy shoes that fit appropriately.
Your feet and ankles are swollen.
During the course of pregnancy, feet and ankles may begin to swell and become painful. This is a result of fluids collecting and pooling in your lower extremities.
There are many reasons for fluid buildup in your feet and ankles during pregnancy.
In part, your body naturally retains more fluid during this time.
On top of that, the swelling uterus can also put pressure on the major veins that bring the blood back up to your heart, so blood pools in the places farthest from your heart—your feet and ankles.
Other elements can contribute and aggravate this problem, such as hot weather, a diet high in salt, and spending too much time on your feet.
Okay, so what can you do about it?
Some ways to improve this situation include:
- Take frequent breaks and keep off your feet as much as possible
- Avoid footwear that cuts off your circulation
- Even though this may seem counterintuitive with the previous point, wear compression stockings (just make sure they don’t cut off circulation!)
- Elevate your feet above heart level whenever you are able
- Do ankle rotations or pumps—we describe these for you in just a little bit—if you sit at a desk all day
- Eat healthy, low-salt foods
- Drink plenty of water to stay properly hydrated
- Try to stay cool during the day
- Put cold towels on your ankles to bring swelling down
- Sleep on your left side at night (to keep pressure off the major vein responsible for carrying blood back to the heart)
- Use pillows to raise your legs above heart-level during the night
(There is one more important and effective way to relieve swelling in the lower limbs, and we’ll be talking about it shortly.)
You are starting to overpronate (even if you previously hadn’t).
Due to the normal, natural weight gain accompanying pregnancy, foot arches can flatten. In turn, this may result in overpronation.
As a refresher—or an introduction (if this is new information for you)—pronation is a biomechanical process wherein feet roll inwards about fifteen degrees or so during the “ground” portion of the step (basically, from the heel strike through the final push from the toes).
When the rolling motion is greater than fifteen degrees, we call it overpronation.
This is important to know because overpronation causes excessive pressure to be placed on an area (the inner edge of the foot) not intended to handle the additional force loads.
In all likelihood, you won’t be aware of the excess motion—until it creates a problem that causes pain.
One way we help patients overcome issues relating to pronation is with orthotic therapy. These custom medical devices can restrict motion, thereby allowing your feet to move in a more natural fashion. As they do, force loads are distributed in the way they should be and this can allow you to find the relief you deserve—especially when you have so much else on your plate!
As an added bonus, your orthotics might actually also relieve some knee, hip, and back pain. This is attributed to how your body is structured. Placing your foot in an improved position causes everything else to align better.
You’re having difficulty clipping your toenails.
With the “baby expansion,” it can be tough to even see your toes in the first place. And taking care of your toenails becomes a herculean task.
This isn’t the time to let them go, however!
As we’ve established, you already have so much going on and the last thing you need is to deal with the pain and discomfort of an ingrown nail.
Keeping your toenails properly trimmed is a key part of preventing an ingrown condition from happening—during pregnancy or otherwise. Of course, it becomes even more important if your shoes are starting to become tighter on account of edema or flattening feet.
If it’s too challenging to trim your own nails during this time, you should ask a loved one for assistance. If you’re usually quite independent and self-reliant—and asking for help doesn’t come naturally—keep in mind that you are only human…and every human needs help sometimes.
You aren’t sure if you should exercise.
Some women want to know:
Is it okay to exercise while I am pregnant?
Yep, you can exercise during pregnancy.
(Though you might want to skip running a marathon or tackling a Tough Mudder!)
In fact, we’ll take it a step further and say that we encourage exercise—provided that you are careful about it.
Reasonable amounts of physical activity—like 30 minutes most days of the week—is proven to provide benefits for both mother and child.
Exercise is known to improve circulation, which is important for providing essential nourishment to your body and your baby’s.
It also decreases your risk of experiencing leg cramps and other issues.
And, as we’ve noted, a common source of lower limb pain and discomfort during pregnancy is edema.
Fortunately, expecting moms can use simple exercises to help, including:
- Walking. This may seem like an obvious choice, but that doesn’t make it any less true! Walking is one of the most natural, beneficial exercises possible, and the increased circulation will help your body flush excess fluid responsible for edema. Just make sure you limit your walking to around 20-30 minutes per day.
- Water Aerobics. As with walking, swimming and water aerobics are outstanding options so you can exercise during your pregnancy. Being in the water takes away a lot of pressure on your joints, while at the same time providing a good cardiovascular workout. An added benefit is that kicking and working your leg muscles in the water can decrease excess fluid buildup. On top of that, deeper water can act like a compression stocking to further keep fluid from pooling in the lower limbs.
- Ankle Pumps. Since remaining in one position for an extended period of time can contribute to edema, you may want to use this simple exercise to move your feet. All you need to do is flex a foot at the ankle, first by pointing your toes away from your body and then by raising your entire foot as far up as possible. Repeat 8-10 times, then switch to the other foot.
- Ankle Rotations. After you’ve done a set of ankle pumps, follow with this exercise. Start by extending your legs in front of you and relaxing your toes. Rotate your right foot clockwise—making a large circle—and then repeat four more times. Do the same with your left foot. Then go back to your right foot again and make the same motion, but in reverse (going counterclockwise). Repeat four times and then switch to your left foot.
As a reminder, your pregnant body produces the relaxin hormone. We’re mentioning this because the extra laxness of your joints may potentially increase your injury risk—but that is a much bigger consideration if you were considering high-impact activities (which you shouldn’t be!).
When you need professional foot care—we’re here for you!
There isn’t any event that’s as life-changing and significant as having a child.
Your purpose in life suddenly becomes centered on this tiny human, and it will ultimately prove to be an exhausting, challenging, and rewarding mission (all at the same time).
As you focus on that, let us focus on your feet!
If you are experiencing any issues or even just have questions regarding foot health during your pregnancy, we’re here for you. Just call our office and we’ll be happy to answer any questions or schedule you for an appointment.
As always, you can reach us by calling (623) 584-5556 or connecting with us online.
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