When beautiful blond and slim Neralee Heard got pregnant with her first child, she had the normal amount of swelling that most people can expect from their pregnancies. Her ankles and feet were swollen, as was her hands. However, when she hit the last trimester of her pregnancy, the swelling continued to get worse. It spread up her legs, through her arms and even in her face.
Her daughter was born 16 days overdue and underweight with complications. However, when she got pregnant with her second child, things became much more difficult earlier on. Again, it started off as swelling in her feet and ankles and in her hands and fingers, which is pretty normal. But pretty soon the swelling travelled up her entire body and she became so swollen that she could barely walk.
The condition, Edema is one of the most common serious medical problems of pregnancy. It is caused by severe build-up of fluid and can lead to the more serious preeclampsia.
The problem with Edema is that a person becomes so swollen that they struggle to walk and get around. The swelling takes over the entire body to the point that the person looks like they are actually severely obese. Neralee, who is a petit 53kg almost doubled in weight, reaching 85kg in her second pregnancy. She could no longer fit her shoes, she couldn’t move around and could barely get in and out of her car and crossing the road took twice the time as she could only shuffle across.
Even her face was so swollen that she was barely recognisable. For the first time ever she got to realise how it felt to be extremely overweight or obese. It was a shock and an eye-opener to experience that, because people thought she was obese and not pregnant, she was treated very differently. Sales staff ignored her in clothes shops, people treated her like she was ‘slow’ or stupid and often people looked straight through her – just because she was bigger.
Not only that but the condition became more dangerous for Neralee as movement became a real problem which was hard as Neralee had a young toddler she couldn’t keep up with. Going to a park was difficult as she could barely move and certainly couldn’t keep up with the demands of her young child who was a ‘bolter’ by Neralee’s own description.
She could only fit flip flops and slippers. She couldn’t even fit most pregnancy clothes and had to wear, what she describes as ‘sacks’ for the majority of her pregnancy. And jewellery was impossible.
She found it too hard to go out and in the end hibernated at home unable to face other people, utterly exhausted and with nothing to wear and certainly no energy to get around.
“I got a real appreciation for how difficult it is for people who are obese. It used to take me ages to walk across the road, and because I am really small framed, having all that extra weight to carry meant it was really exhausting just to walk around.”
Edema is severe fluid retention and is caused by your growing uterus putting pressure on your pelvic veins which slows the return of blood from your legs causing it to ‘pool’. It does, however, disappear as soon as you have your baby.
Some tips to prevent Edema or severe swelling are:
- Minimise your sodium intake.
- Try and sleep on your left side – it takes the pressure of the large vein that returns blood to the heart and try to elevate your legs slightly when sleeping.
- Wear compression stockings.
- Drink lots of water – it keeps the blood pumping through your body and helps reduce your swelling.
- Avoid standing for long periods.
- Put your feet up as much as possible.
- Wear comfortable shoes or even flipflops.
- Swimming/ standing or lying in cool water helps reduce the swelling.
- Try to include physical activity in your routine. Even if it is a light walk around the block every day – it helps the blood pump through.
- Regular foot massages.
- Keep cool – try cold compresses.
- Importantly – take it easy and don’t over stress or exert yourself.
If you are experiences severe swelling during your pregnancy, make sure you visit your GP or obstetrician quickly.