There was a period of my pregnancy where I felt more like a swollen balloon than a pregnant woman. My hands were like tennis balls tethered with strung sausage, my feet were full and achy, and let's not talk about my cankles. I think I had a calf and maybe a foot, but they kind of merged in an immobile center that was the opposite of cute. At that point, I'd have done anything to ease the swelling, but admittedly, I didn't think much about how nutrition would affect it. Finding out what to eat to reduce swelling during pregnancy should've been a natural place to start, but we often neglect food as a remedy in our society.
According to the Mayo Clinic, swelling is often just a part of pregnancy. The clinic noted that your body naturally retains more water when you're expecting, frustrating as that might be. Additionally, there's a lot of internal pressure that restricts the blood flow to your extremities thanks to your baby's growth and movement, which causes fluid to build up. There's may also be a hormonal component, but it's not as easily proven. It can be hugely uncomfortable and really inconvenient, so learning how to manage the edema is key. According to Harvard University, swelling is hugely affected by diet, and researchers suggest a well balanced approach to your meals, which means incorporating anti-inflammatory foods, as well as avoiding foods that promote inflammation.
Most of us try to alleviate the problems of swelling mechanically. I know I did. I laid on my side, I propped myself up on pillows, and waded in the pool until I turned into a prune. I did everything I'd been told my whole adult life as an athlete facing swelling from marathons and over-exercising. I alternated between heat and ice therapy, I drank water, I took it easy. Nothing worked except delivering my son. That was when it ended for me.
Had I known that there were alternative diets I could've tried to manage some of the swelling, I would have, even given all of my food aversions during pregnancy. According to The American Pregnancy Association, eating a diet rich in potassium has been shown to be of particular benefit to pregnant women suffering from edema. Also, it's important to note that they found that caffeine can make the swelling worse, which isn't always the case with other forms of edema — namely the swelling experienced after a vigorous workout. The website noted that achieving proper levels of hydration is key, but it's only one component, and that's perhaps why it didn't decrease my swelling as much as I'd hoped.
According to Harvard University, there are specific foods proven to help reduce edema in patients who aren't dangerously swollen. Most of these foods are dense in vitamins and many have a high water or fat content. All of them are replete with micronutrients that also assist in inhibiting the inflammatory processes that produce the swelling. Some of these foods are green leafy vegetables, fruits like berries and citrus, and stone fruits like cherries. Harvard is also a huge proponent for olive oil, nuts and seeds, and lean fish that is easily digestible by the body and rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
What to eat to reduce swelling during pregnancy is important, but equally important is what not to eat. According to the American Pregnancy Association, you need to limit your intake of salt and caffeine which can exacerbate the problems of swelling. Harvard suggested you also minimize your intake of refined carbohydrates, soda, red meat, and foods like margarine. It's not easy, and it's certainly not fun, but it's doable, at least for a little while. Hopefully, with enough cherries and bananas, your feet will stop feeling like stuffed sausage.