According to Weather Underground, the temperatures in Orange County are finally lowering to more reasonable levels, but for many mamas out there, the heat has taken its toll. Can we blame El Nino for swelling? For those of us still dealing with the effects of the heat, here are some natural remedies to reduce swelling in the lower extremities during pregnancy.
Important note: while swelling of the lower extremities is a common complaint in pregnancy, sudden swelling of the hands and/or face is not. Neither is one-sided swelling that is red and/ or hot to the touch. This information is not a substitute for medical care. It is important to contact your midwife or physician with any questions or concerns.
To understand what causes swelling, we have to have a basic understanding of the way fluids move around the body. You are made up of approximately 100 trillion cells, with each cell being unique and performing a specific task. These cells move fluids between your organs and circulatory systems through a number of different processes, namely diffusion, osmosis, filtration, or active transport (are your having flashbacks of high school biology yet?) For the purpose of our conversation about swelling, OSMOSIS is the term that we need to understand, specifically Forward Osmosis (illustrated below).
Because water is attracted to salt, water moves from less salty liquid to more salty liquid through a semipermeable membrane. The force at which this happens is proportional to the pressure on each side of the membrane. Confused yet? It gets better. This pressure is determined by the amount of protein (specifically albumin) dissolved on either side of the membrane. Now, instead of using the term “salty fluid,” I’m going to say “blood,” because that’s actually what we’re talking about. We want most of your fluid to be in your blood circulation (your plasma). However, when the interstitial tissue outside of your circulation is saltier than the blood in your circulation, fluid moves outside of the circulatory system and into your interstitial tissues by the process of forward osmosis. When you don’t have enough protein in your circulation, this happens faster. Whew! Ok, that was a lot. But what does this have to do with swelling? Fluid accumulating in your interstitial tissues IS swelling. So when you’re poking your swollen, sausage-like foot after a day in this heat, imagine that all that fluid should actually be traveling around in your capillaries. Time to tell that fluid to go home.
So how does one give this fluid the boot? Lets look at the 3 main players in the game: salt, protein, and fluid. You need to drink plenty of fluid to keep your blood volume normal. Then, you need salt in your circulation so that the fluid stays in your blood and doesn’t move out into your tissues. And finally, your need plenty of protein so that your liver can create albumin to keep the osmotic pressure normal in the whole system. In other words, you need adequate amounts of all three to keep your fluids where they should be. Together, these are known (at least at Wholistic Women’s Healthcare) as the Swelling-Saver Triad! (Too cheesy? Ok, at least I tried).
The other common cause of swelling later in pregnancy is poor venous return from your lower legs due to the weight of your uterus. Sitting upright (like at a desk) for long periods of time will exacerbate this. A simple solution is to be sure you get up at least once an hour to walk and stretch your legs. If possible, sit on an exercise ball instead of a typical chair. Or find ways to keep your feet elevated while you work.
What you Can do to Beat the Swelling
The Swelling-Saver Triad: be sure to drink ample water and healthy electrolytes (60-80 oz daily depending on weight and activity level), eat lots of protein-rich foods (80-100 grams daily), and salt your food to taste with a good quality salt (sea salt, Himalayan pink salt, & black salt are good options). This is the foundation of a healthy circulatory system.
Cell salts: homeopathic cell salts help your body maintain fluid balance. These can be a helpful addition to dietary changes.
Movement: a healthy pregnancy should include daily movement, whether its prenatal yoga, walking on the beach, or doing a few laps in the pool. Thirty minutes of activity will do wonders for swelling and the endorphins will make you feel good.
Elevation: lay down and prop your feet above your heart three times a day. For added benefit, have your partner massage your feet with chilled oil or aloe vera (you can add Juniper or Fennel essential oil as well)
Magnesium and Epsom salt baths: most Americans are deficient in magnesium, so add a daily supplement. I like the CALM supplement best because its tasty and you can drink it hot or cold. Epsom salt baths are another good way to absorb magnesium. Add a drop of Grapefruit or Geranium essential oil for a yummy, spa-like twist.
Parsley & Lemon: both help with circulation and lemon juice is a very mild diuretic (I do not recommend taking over the counter diuretics during pregnancy). Add them to whatever you eat and enjoy!
Dandelion tea: this liver support herb helps to keep your liver pumping out that albumin. Drink one cup daily, hot or as iced tea with lemon.
Cold cabbage: this is a go-to for any type of swelling from breast engorgement to sprained ankles to swollen feet. Chill the cabbage in the fridge beforehand, apply the leaves to your ankles, and wrap them in an Ace bandage or saran wrap to keep them in place.