During pregnancy, the body retains extra water to support the baby, and this water is gradually released through sweating and urination.
In the meantime, various home remedies and exercises can reduce the swelling and associated symptoms.
In this article, we look at the causes and symptoms of postpartum swelling. We also explore natural ways to eliminate it.
Causes of postpartum swelling
A buildup of water in the body during pregnancy may cause postpartum swelling.
Postpartum swelling happens when water weight from pregnancy builds up in the body and remains after the pregnancy has ended.
The swelling usually affects the legs, feet, ankles, and face.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, a woman's body produces 50 percent more blood and body fluids during pregnancy to support the developing baby.
Some research suggests that a woman may retain more than 3.0 kilograms, or 6.6 pounds, of fluid throughout the body.
Postpartum swelling can occur after abdominal or vaginal delivery.
Ten natural treatments for postpartum swelling
After childbirth, the body needs time to recover. Eating properly, resting, and sleeping more than usual will help the body to return to a healthy state.
The following home remedies can help to reduce postpartum swelling by increasing circulation:
1. Drink water
It may be counterintuitive, but staying hydrated can help with losing water weight. This is because dehydration makes the body hold on to extra water.
Water also helps to push waste products through the kidneys, which can keep the body's systems healthy and speed up recovery after pregnancy.
2. Elevate your feet
To reduce swelling in the legs and improve circulation, spend some time with the legs elevated above the level of the heart. This encourages the water to flow throughout the body.
Fluids naturally rush to the feet when a person stands, so elevating the feet can reduce swelling temporarily.
Also, avoid cutting off blood flow to the legs, which can happen when a person crosses their legs or sits in restrictive positions.
3. Do light exercise
Many people find that light exercise can reduce swelling and related symptoms. Moving around helps blood and water to circulate and prevents it from pooling.
However, people should always listen to their bodies and avoid movements that cause pain.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends activities such as:
- gentle yoga
- aquanatal classes
4. Wear compression stockings
Authors of a 2017 study found that wearing compression stockings helped to reduce swelling in the 24-hour period after giving birth. However, they noted that further research was necessary.
Compression stockings help to increase blood flow by reducing the size of blood vessels in the legs. This encourages the vessels to circulate more blood in a shorter amount of time.
A range of compression stockings is available for purchase online.
5. Wear loose-fitting clothes
Tight-fitting clothing can cut off circulation to various parts of the body. This can stop the body from shedding water weight and encourage the fluid to pool.
Wearing loose-fitting clothing can help to prevent these issues.
6. Avoid salt
Salt may increase water retention.
The body needs to maintain a balance of sodium and water. If people eat too much sodium, or salt, they will retain more water.
Common sources of sodium include table salt and processed foods, such as cakes, chips, prepackaged meals, and soft drinks.
The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that people eat no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.
Checking the sodium contents on food packaging can help a person to keep their salt intake within a healthful range and reduce water retention.
7. Eat potassium-rich foods
Sodium and potassium work together, and the body requires a balance. Consuming more potassium naturally lowers the amount of sodium in the body.
Foods rich in potassium include:
- baked beans
- peanut butter
8. Drink less caffeine
Coffee and other caffeinated products can make the body lose water, increasing the risk of dehydration. The body may respond by retaining fluids.
Replace caffeinated drinks with herbal teas or water to stay hydrated and reduce postpartum swelling.
9. Use a foam roller
Foam rollers can improve circulation and reduce the buildup of water in the body.
Using a foam roller on the legs, for example, can help to speed up blood flow by encouraging the blood to move through the veins at a quicker pace.
A healthcare provider can help to advise about the effectiveness of a foam roller for postpartum swelling. The rollers are available for purchase at athletic stores or online.
10. Improve circulation with a postpartum massage
The American Pregnancy Association recommend a postpartum massage for relaxation, pain relief, and reduced swelling. Massage can promote circulation and help the body to lose excess water weight.
Postpartum massage can also help to rebalance hormone levels and regulate levels of stress hormones such as cortisol, according to the organization.
When choosing a massage therapist or acupuncturist, find someone who is certified and who specializes in or is familiar with treating postpartum clients.
When to see a doctor
See a doctor if swelling comes on suddenly.
People should see a doctor if:
- swelling comes on suddenly
- pressing down on a swollen area leaves an indentation in the skin, which is known as pitted edema
- there is pain, redness, irritation, or increased swelling in one leg, which can point to a blood clot
- a woman has a continuous or recurring headache, vomiting, blurred vision, or sensitivity to light, which are symptoms of preeclampsia
- there is chest pain or trouble breathing, which can signal a potentially severe heart complication called peripartum cardiomyopathy
Postpartum swelling is common. There are several natural ways to reduce this swelling more quickly, involving massage, changes to the diet, and light exercise.
These remedies can also improve a woman's physical and mental health after pregnancy.