What exercises can pregnant women do to prevent leg swelling during pregnancy?
Moderate cardio is essential to reduce swelling during pregnancy. It can be as simple as a brisk, 30-minute walk most days of the week. If you have access to a pool, alternate brisk walk days with 30 minutes of swimming. Frequent, moderate cardiovascular exercise does wonders for circulation and blood flow. Circuit training or continuous resistance training that moderately elevates the heart rate and has you working up sweat (but still able to maintain a light conversation) is great. Four of the the prenatal Dia strength workouts also provide a moderately elevated heart rate for 25-30 minutes, offering an efficient option to achieve both strength and cardio benefits at the same time.
How about all-over water retention?
Water retention during pregnancy is usually a sign of inadequate protein and, as counter-intuitive as this sounds, inadequate consumption of salts and water. This all relates to albumin synthesis in the liver and how it changes during pregnancy. If a pregnant woman is retaining water, I recommend eating more protein (target 80-120 grams of protein per day), adding 1-2 cups of salty (not low-sodium) soup or broth to the daily diet, and drinking more water. Adequately hydrating requires both water and salt, and much of swelling during pregnancy is caused by dehydration.
If not retaining water, continue to salt food to taste (trust your body to tell you how much salt it needs) and monitor your protein consumption for a few days. If you’re consistently eating under 80 grams, add a little more protein (red meat, cheese, chicken, pork, low-mercury fish, eggs) to the diet as a preventative measure. And continue drinking plenty of water. Homemade broth or soup is also a very nutritious menu item to include in your diet to guard hydration, electrolyte and mineral balance while pregnant.
Is there something we can do in the last month? Also what exercises should women avoid during the third trimester?
During the final month of pregnancy, many of my clients feel great continuing with the workouts they performed all along. This typically includes resistance training, moderate cardio, and light stretching. However, every pregnancy is different so please listen to your body, consult your doctor, and adjust accordingly. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it!
I’m not a fan of jogging during pregnancy because of hormone-induced joint laxity, which increases the risk of a sudden fall, but also because it strains the uterine ligaments. The impact of running or jumping combined with the weight of the uterus (during 3rd trimester, estimate 13 lbs. for baby + placenta + amniotic fluid, etc.) will easily overstretch the uterine ligaments. This dramatically increases your risk of uterine prolapse, a condition I would do everything in my power to avoid. In lieu of jogging, incorporate brisk walking, cycling, swimming or low-impact dancing/aerobics.
Other tips to reduce swelling during pregnancy? Elevation, nutrition?
Elevating the legs for 10 minutes a day is helpful, especially after work or after a lot of standing.
If your day involves extended sitting or standing, set a timer to remind yourself to take a brief walk and stretch every 30-60 minutes (your bladder might do this for you naturally, especially in the third trimester!).
For severe leg swelling, compression tights help dramatically.
Whole foods that can exert a welcome diuretic effect include cucumbers and watermelon – both cooling and refreshing as they help the body release excess fluids! Here’s a lovely salad that combines both: watermelon, cucumber, feta and fresh mint drizzled with olive oil, a couple grinds of Himalayan pink sea salt and touch of black pepper.
Reflexology (foot massage) from a practitioner who specializes in pregnancy can offer profound relief! If you happen to be in New York, I highly recommend scheduling a session with Vera Krijn.
Finally, many of my clients also notice improvement when they soak in a warm (not hot) bath with Epsom salt for 10 minutes about twice a week. Magnesium from the Epsom salt absorbs through the skin to relax leg muscles, reduce swelling and help banish those excruciating calf cramps.
Cautionary note: if you experience a sudden and dramatic swelling of your hands or feet, please notify your doctor or midwife immediately. These acute symptoms could indicate something that requires medical attention.