Salt and Swelling


Swelling, it’s an issue most pregnant women face at some point. But how can we conquer it?

Why am I swelling during pregnancy!?

Swelling, or oedema, occurs when your body holds onto more fluid than usual. This happens during pregnancy as blood pressure increases. This high pressure prevents excess water in tissue fluid from re-entering the blood stream and so it accumulates in the feet, ankles and other parts of the body. You may find that your swelling is worse towards the end of the day, and that’s normal. 

Swelling is usually just an uncomfortable but minor problem, however, in some cases it can be an indicator of something much worse. It’s important you see your doctor or midwife if: swelling is rising in your calf, if you press on the swelling, is an indentation left? If swelling suddenly appears or is severe in the face hands or feet and you’re in your third trimester you may have pre-eclampsia. This is a major complication and you need to seek help immediately for the sake of you and your baby. If swelling occurs in only one leg and your calf feels tender and lumpy or is red you may be suffering from deep vein thrombosis, a blood clot in your vein.

How to beat swelling

Firstly you need to ask yourself:

Is your diet mostly processed and convenience foods?

Your diet is key throughout pregnancy, and in the case of swelling salt can be your enemy or your best friend. Swelling, and to an extent pre-eclampsia, can be made worse by eating processed foods high in salt. If you’re pregnant you should be trying your best to eat a healthy balanced diet with plenty of calories and protein. The calories you consume shouldn’t be ’empty’ every calorie needs to have nutritional value, your diet is not only helping your baby to grow but it’s sustaining your body as it grows and protects your baby. A treat like a McDonalds every blue moon is fine! Even recommended! But you shouldn’t be eating processed foods on a daily basis.

If you’re eating a good whole food diet:

It’s recommended as part of the Brewer Diet that you salt to taste. That means slightly seasoning meals, it’s important not to cut out salt completely. Your blood supply is growing, in fact by the end of your pregnancy, you’ll have increased your blood volume by 50% for a normal singleton pregnancy.(1) Salt is vital for an increasing blood supply, it has also been shown that after just two weeks of salt moderation, blood volume will begin to drop.

Why we can’t cut salt out of our diets

When salt is decreased your blood volume starts to drop, swelling increases because there is not enough salt in the blood to hold water in the blood stream and so it leaks out into the tissues. The kidneys keep reabsorbing water from the urine thinking the body is dehydrated (since there is less water in the blood) whilst water keeps leaking out of the capillaries (blood vessels) at the other end. This leads to rapid swelling in the ankles, fingers, and face, as well as rapid weight gain. A randomised Dutch study found that restricting sodium in the diet did not reduce high blood pressure (the cause of most swelling in pregnancy). (2)

However, it is important to note, whilst a healthy pregnant woman is not able to eat too much salt by salting to taste and avoiding processed foods women with kidney problems and other pre-existing conditions affecting blood pressure or tissue fluid should consult their doctor or midwife on salt intake. It may also be handy to get in contact with a dietitian if that’s something you’re able to do.



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