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Extremity Changes During Pregnancy

Extremity changes during pregnancy can affect posture and appearance. The information on this page can help you understand and reduce the effects of these changes.

Awkward Gait

Pregnancy is characterized by changes in posture and gait. These changes increase the mobility of joints and lead to the characteristic "waddle" gait of pregnancy.

Recommendations include:

  • Wear sturdy, supporting shoes; no high heels
  • If the gait causes added discomfort, try the same relief measures as indicated for low back pain

Varicosities (Legs/Perineum)

Varicose veins in the legs are often aggravated by pregnancy because the weight of the pregnant uterus prevents good venous return from the lower extremities. There is a genetic predisposition for varicose veins so if your mother or grandmother have them you are more likely to as well. Other contributory factors include excessive weight gain, increased maternal age, a large baby, and multiple pregnancies. Women with varicosities experience fatigue and aching in the lower extremities.

Here are some suggestions for reducing the veins:

  • Engage in regular exercise such as swimming, cycling, or walking
  • Wear supportive hose or elastic stockings - may be helpful to put them on before arising
  • Elevate your legs at hip level while sitting
  • Lie down with your feet elevated at the hips several times daily (a pillow under one hip can decrease pressure of the uterus on the vena cava)
  • Do not sit or stand for prolonged periods
  • Do not wear garters or constrictive hosiery (anything with tight elastic bands)
  • Do not cross your legs at the knees

Varicosities of the perineum are less common but can cause aching and a sense of heaviness. Relief measures include:

  • Wear two sanitary pads inside your underwear for support
  • Do Kegel exercises
  • Take warm baths to sooth
  • Sit instead of stand (with your legs elevated if possible)
  • Assume an "incline" position several times daily facilitates blood return from the pelvic area. This position is accomplished by lying on the floor and raising both legs and hips while keeping head, arms and shoulders on the floor

Numbness & Tingling of Fingers and Toes

Changes in posture and swelling in the hands and feet can result in compression of the nerves in the arms and legs. This causes tingling and numbness of the fingers and toes. If experienced, this discomfort is usually late in the pregnancy.

Relief measures include:

  • Take frequent rest periods with elevation of the legs
  • Pay attention to good posture
  • Engage in mild exercise to aid circulation

Swelling of Feet and Hands

Dependent edema (swelling of the feet and hands) is present in many pregnant women during the third trimester. It is caused by a variety of natural changes in the body. Mild edema of the hands and face may normally be present, but edema throughout the body including the face may be a sign of a disease and requires further testing.

Comfort measures include:

  • Avoid prolonged standing or sitting
  • Elevate your legs for one to two hours a few times per day
  • Lay on your side (particularly the left) whenever possible (30 minutes 3-4 times per day)
  • Avoid constrictive clothing
  • Wear supportive hose
  • Drink at least eight glasses of fluids daily - especially water
  • Eat a high protein diet
  • Avoid excessive salt and carbohydrates
  • Get frequent exercise
  • Report any swelling that is severe or present when you get up in the morning

Be aware of signs and symptoms of toxemia (headache, visual changes, abdominal pain, weight gain, blood pressure increase, protein in your urine); consult with your healthcare provider if changes occur.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact our Women's Center at 605-322-3444.

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