Managing Fluid Retention
Swelling can be managed by "lying down, especially on the side, and by treatment of any underlying medical conditions," says Dr. Rayburn. "Fluid pills are to be discouraged." Elevating the legs above the heart may be more ideal, but is impractical, he adds.
Tight support hose are also effective, says Dr. Silver, but of course this is more practical in the winter than the summer. Women are often told to drink a lot of water, he says, but this doesn't help. Dr. Rayburn concurs, but adds that it's beneficial in very hot weather.
As a physician, when does Dr. Rayburn get concerned about swelling during pregnancy? "Either when it becomes so excessive that it impairs her bodily functions (difficulty urinating, less blood flow to affected areas) or that the underlying medical condition is worsening," he says. "A common finding is for the mother-to-be to be unable to take off her rings. We rarely do anything about this unless there is impaired circulation." He doesn't think he's ever seen rings have to be removed.
Dr. Silver says there's no threshold or amount of swelling that causes him concern. If the physician has excluded serious medical problems, he says the patient can be reassured.
The Waiting Game
Unfortunately, the situation typically does not resolve very quickly after giving birth. "Swelling of the feet and ankles normally persists for days—usually up to two weeks—after delivery," says Dr. Rayburn.
This might be discouraging, but after nine months, you can wait another week or so before you slip on those tight-fitting fancy shoes. Besides, they won't be very suitable for those 3 AM feedings anyway.