Pregnancy Pains: Six Easy Ways to Relieve Aching Legs When Expecting

Swollen, aching legs are a common side effect of pregnancy, but just because they’re to be expected doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about them. From watching your salt intake to wearing maternity compression stockings, there are many steps you can take to manage swelling and leg pain during pregnancy. Here are six strategies to try:

pregnant woman with leg cramp

1. Elevate your legs.

Gravity constantly pulls down on your blood, lymph and other fluids, causing them to pool in your feet and lower limbs. This is why you usually swell so much in your feet and calves than, say, your arms and hands. To combat the effects of gravity, lie down on your back on a bed or couch and elevate your legs above the level of your heart for 15 minutes at the end of your day. If you’re finding it tough to move around and get comfortable, a leg elevation pillow can help you get into the right position so your blood will be able to flow uninterrupted.

2. Avoid standing for long periods.

You know how we just said that gravity pulls on your fluids and results in swelling? This effect will be exacerbated if you have to stand all day—for example, if you work as a nurse or flight attendant. Gravity will also contribute to lower body swelling if you sit all day, too, but at least when you’re sitting you can put your feet up to lessen gravity’s effects. If you can’t sit at work, try to at least to take walking breaks; the physical movement will get your blood and other fluids circulating and help fight swelling.

pregnant woman pulling tights

3. Wear compression stockings.

Wearing maternity compression stockings is another way to gently counteract gravity’s effects. These compression stockings provide graduated pressure—more at your ankle, less farther up your leg—to encourage your blood and lymph to keep flowing back toward your core rather than pooling in your lower body. For best results, put the compression stockings on first thing in the morning, before you’ve had a chance to swell. As an added bonus, compression stockings also help contribute to healthy circulation in addition to reducing swelling, so you’ll get multiple benefits from wearing them.

4. Exercise your lower body.

While moving may be the last thing you want to do, gentle exercises can help work out your lower body and reduce swelling and aching. Specific exercises to try include ankle pumps, calf stretches, hamstring stretches, wall squats and foam rolling. All these physically work your muscles and encourage fluid to dispel. Water aerobics is also great for reducing swelling since the pressure of the water provides a similar effect to compression stocking. Plus, the cool water of the pool will also soothe your aching legs (see next point).

pregnant woman holding belly

5. Stay cool.

Anyone who has ever walked outside on a hot day knows that your body is more likely to swell when the temperature rises. Women who are expecting—especially during their later trimesters—often find that their swelling is exacerbated during the summer.

To prevent this from happening, seek out cool areas whenever you can, and try to avoid walking outside for too long during the warmer months. You may also need to invest in some additional fans or window AC units to help keep your home or office cool enough. If you’re are extremely swollen, a cold bath or even an ice pack can provide quick relief.

6. Watch your salt intake.

Some sodium is necessary to proper bodily functioning, but if you have too much sodium in your system, it will cause water to leave your cells, resulting in swelling. If you’re wondering just how much sodium you should be eating, the recommended amount is less than 2,300 mg per day, which works out to about one teaspoon of salt.

Watch how much salt you’re eating and check the labels of the foods you’re eating to make sure you’re not accidentally consuming high levels of sodium. And, while you’re at it, drink plenty of water—dehydration can also cause your body to retain fluid and swell, much like the overconsumption of sodium can.

If you’re experiencing swollen, aching legs during your pregnancy, don’t give up hope: There are many ways for you to find relief. Try one or more of these six tips to reduce swelling and achiness in your lower body during pregnancy.

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