Forget the skinny jeans for a minute, are you struggling just to squeeze into the shoes you wore before becoming pregnant? It's not in your head, Mama. It's actually in your feet, according to a new study from the University of Iowa that says one of pregnancy's lasting effects can be a larger shoe size.
Yes, feet tend to swell from water retention during pregnancy, but this problem usually goes away after giving birth. Permanent changes to feet are due to fallen arches, say UI researchers who measured the arch height and foot length of 49 women during pregnancy and five months after their babies were born. Overall, 60 to 70 percent of the women had longer feet and shorter arches after childbirth, researchers report, with 11 moms saying they needed a larger shoe size after pregnancy.
The culprit behind all this? It seems to involve relaxin, a pregnancy hormone produced by the body that helps to loosen and relax the joints and ligaments in preparation for childbirth. Because relaxin circulates everywhere in the body, it also makes the foot more malleable. Add the extra weight of a growing belly that puts more stress on the feet, and voila! It's the perfect recipe for fallen arches.
Can you do anything to protect your feet during pregnancy? Fortunately, the answer appears to be yes. According to New Jersey-based podiatrist Bruce Calligaro, DPM, FACFAS, key healthy foot tips for moms-to-be include:
- Pay Attention to Footwear: Choose to wear supportive, stable shoes that fit well. If you can't find comfortable shoes, a podiatrist can provide you with orthotics inserts for your shoes to distribute weight more evenly and support arches.
- Stick to Low-Impact Exercise: Running and other forms of high-impact exercise can exert extra pressure on feet (high impact exercise is generally not recommended during the second half of pregnancy, anyway). To give your joints and ligament—and feet—a break, try the low impact workout of swimming instead.
- Take a Load Off When You Can: Avoid standing for long periods of time, get plenty of rest, and elevate your feet whenever you have a chance. (We're sure a foot massage wouldn't hurt, either!)
The tiny piece of good news researchers uncovered? If your arches became flatter during your first pregnancy, that's probably as low as they will go, even if you have more children. According to the study, a woman's first pregnancy has the greatest impact on change in shoe size; subsequent pregnancies do not appear to compound the problem.
And another silver lining? If your feet really do require a slightly larger size after your baby is born, two words: shoe shopping!