Pregnancy is no walk in the park. Although you’re probably focusing on the growing size of your belly, your feet can actually get bigger during pregnancy as well! But why do your feet get bigger, and what can you do avoid an increase in shoe size?
Light exercise, hydration, moderate salt intake, elevating your feet, and comfortable shoes can all help reduce the size of a woman’s foot after pregnancy. Due to excess blood volume and fluid retention, it is common for pregnant women to experience swollen feet that can last days, weeks, or months after delivery.
Why do your feet grow during pregnancy? And is there anything you can do to make sure the change isn’t permanent? Keep reading to find out!
Why do feet swell during and after pregnancy?
During pregnancy, the body produces more fluid than normal to help support the growing baby. In fact, a woman’s blood volume increases by up to 50% during pregnancy! All the extra fluid can lead to swelling, which is medically known as edema. In most cases, this swelling is more pronounced during the third trimester of pregnancy and can continue even after delivery.
Most swelling during pregnancy is experienced in the face, hands, legs, ankles, and feet. Swollen feet and ankles can be particularly uncomfortable, especially if you’re pregnant when it’s warm out. Some women can’t even put shoes on for the last few months of their pregnancy because their swelling is so extreme.
Although slight swelling is normal during pregnancy, sudden or extreme swelling can be a cause for concern. Sudden swelling is a common symptom of preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication that can be dangerous if not treated. At each prenatal appointment, the doctor will check for high blood pressure, which, in addition to the swelling, is an early symptom of preeclampsia.
Plus, let’s face it, swollen feet and ankles can be particularly uncomfortable when you are dealing with a newborn and pregnancy recovery!
If you notice sudden swelling in your hands or feet while pregnant, don’t hesitate to check in with your doctor.
Will your feet return to normal size after pregnancy?
Now that you’ve had the baby, you’re probably hoping that your body will start getting back to normal. If your feet have grown during your pregnancy, they’ll shrink back down to their normal size, right?
Unfortunately, they might not.
Most women, especially after their first child, experience a permanent increase in shoe size as a result of their pregnancy. One of the reasons feet grow during pregnancy is because of those pregnancy hormones messing with every other part of your body. The hormone relaxin loosens the joints in your body to help your baby make his or her way through the birth canal when the time comes. Relaxin also loosens the ligaments and joints throughout your body, including in your feet.
Even though it looks like your feet are growing, your foot bones aren’t gaining any additional size. The addition to your shoe size is actually caused by your feet stretching and flattening out. As relaxin loosens the ligaments in your feet, your foot bones spread apart, flattening your feet and stretching them. The extra weight you’re carrying around can put added pressure on your feet, causing them to spread even more. And once the ligaments in your feet have spread out and loosened, they won’t be tightening back up after having the baby.
Most women end up gaining a full shoe size after having their first child. Although subsequent pregnancies seem to have a less dramatic impact on foot size, your feet can still gain in size with each pregnancy.
How long does it take for feet to shrink after pregnancy?
Although your feet might never return to their pre-pregnancy size, you aren’t necessarily stuck with your post-delivery feet either.
The process of delivery can actually cause one last round of extreme swelling. Your body is flooded with hormones, which increases fluid retention. The process of pushing while giving birth can force that extra fluid to your extremities (feet, ankles, and hands). If you have an IV during labor, that extra fluid hangs out in your body until it’s processed through your kidneys. In the day following delivery, you’ll probably even notice an increase in swelling caused by labor itself.
Luckily, that extra swelling in your feet should disappear within the first week after delivery. One month after giving birth, your shoe size should be stabilized at your new normal. And even if your shoes no longer fit, at least you have an excuse to go shopping for some new ones!
What if feet are still swollen 5 months after giving birth?
Most swelling from delivery should disappear a few weeks after giving birth. If your feet are still swollen months after delivery, there are a few things to consider:
- Pain or redness. If your swelling is accompanied by pain, irritation, or red skin, call your doctor. Although rare, you might be experiencing a blood clot or another complication. Swelling that is painful should always be looked at by an experienced doctor.
- Foot growth. If you’re several months after delivery and your feet still seem bigger than normal, it might not be swelling. Feet usually spread out during pregnancy, which might make your shoes fit tighter than they did before pregnancy. Try a bigger size, and see if it helps.
- Other factors. At 5 months after birth, your body might not be totally back to normal, but you should be pretty well recovered from delivery. If your feet are swollen, it might not be the pregnancy to blame, but other factors. Even when you’re not pregnant, you can experience swelling in your feet and ankles due to fluid retention. Hormonal changes, sitting or standing for long periods of time, injury, and certain medical conditions can cause swelling. If you’re concerned, don’t hesitate to set up an appointment with your doctor.
How to get feet back to normal size after pregnancy
Even though foot growth during pregnancy is normal, that doesn’t mean you have to like it. If the idea of going up a shoe size makes you squirm, don’t lose hope just yet! Here are some tips you can try to get your feet back to their normal size after pregnancy.
Remember that these suggestions can help get your feet closer to their pre-pregnancy normal, but aren’t guaranteed fixes. Every pregnancy is different, and every pregnancy comes with changes. Try to embrace the changes in your body, and realize that you’ve done something absolutely incredible by giving birth.
Take care of your feet during pregnancy
This strategy takes some planning ahead, but helps the most with keeping your feet at their normal size after having a baby. Most foot growth during pregnancy is caused by your extra weight pressing on the loosened ligaments in your feet, making them spread out. To prevent this from spreading, treat your feet well during pregnancy.
Wear shoes that provide excellent arch support and increase blood circulation to your feet. Avoid walking barefoot, especially later in your pregnancy when your weight gain is at its height.
Once the doctor has given you the all-clear after delivery, ease into an exercise routine. Exercise can help increase the blood flow to your feet, which will clear out any remaining swelling after delivery. Exercise can also help you lose pregnancy weight, which will minimize some of the pressure that might be spreading out your feet.
Try compression stockings
I know they aren’t exactly the height of fashion, but compression stockings can increase the blood flow in your legs. Extra blood flow helps to flush out any extra fluids lurking in your feet and ankles, minimizing swelling.
Stretch and massage
Foot stretches and exercises can help strengthen your feet, making unexpected foot growth unlikely. Strengthening your feet can also minimize your risk for injury, which is especially important after your ligaments have loosened during pregnancy. Curling and then extending your toes is an easy, quick stretch you can incorporate into your daily routine.
A gentle foot massage not only feels wonderful but can help strengthen your feet and keep them strong and healthy. During pregnancy, the arch of the foot is particularly vulnerable to flattening and stretching. Using your thumb, gently massage the arch of your foot for a few minutes.
Or, talk your partner into giving you a full foot massage; you just had a baby, after all!
Put your feet up
Hopefully, you’re trying to rest after giving birth, but take some time each day to literally put your feet up. Elevation can help minimize swelling, and can also tackle foot growth by taking the pressure off your feet.
Lie down with your feet under a small pillow (a rolled-up blanket or towel works well in a pinch!) and relax.