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Edema After Giving Birth: Important Matters to Know

Written by Stephanie Nera, RPh, PharmD · Pharmacology

Updated Jun 16, 2021

    Edema After Giving Birth: Important Matters to Know

    Postpartum swelling or edema after giving birth is a common occurrence. In general, edema occurs when fluid (e.g. water) moves into the extracellular space or the spaces between tissues outside the blood vessels.. There are many causes and factors that contribute to swelling. Some are normal while others may indicate an underlying condition that should be treated. Learn more about what causes swelling after birth and how to manage it.

    Edema after giving birth

    Causes of edema

    Generally, edema occurs when there is water accumulation in the body. This happens when there is fluid overload and the cells cannot hold any more water. Additionally, too much sodium or salt can cause swelling because it pulls water into the tissues, causing retention.

    During pregnancy, edema is normal and expected especially nearing term because as the fetus grows, the mother requires more water and nutrients. The growing baby can also compress the lveins in the lower body. Fluid tend to build up because of hormones that cause sodium and water retention. Additionally, most pregnant women are sedentary and prolonged sitting or bedrest can cause pooling of fluid in the lower limbs.

    Health risks

    Fortunately, edema alone is not a major cause of concern. Without any symptoms and if is only apparent at the ankles, you may just observe. However, there are many diseases that can cause edema. Some examples include chronic kidney disease, congestive heart failure, and liver cirrhosis. Additionally, certain medications can also cause edema as a side effect.

    Preeclampsia is another condition that can present with swelling or edema. Signs include facial edema, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, migraines, rapid weight-gain, and spike in blood pressure. Preeclampsia is mainly a concern during pregnancy, but postpartum preeclampsia is a rare occurrence that typically happens within 48 hours after giving birth. Both types of preeclampsia are medical emergencies that need immediate treatment to prevent seizures and other complications.

    edema after giving birth

    Management of edema after giving birth

    While it may seem counterintuitive, drinking more water and staying hydrated is the best way to prevent edema. The reason for this is because when we are dehydrated, our bodies tend to retain or hold onto more water. This leads to puffiness and swelling in areas such as the limbs and face.

    Gravity also plays a role in where fluid accumulates. This is why the feet, ankles, and legs are the most commonly affected areas. Raising your legs while sitting or lying down can help prevent pooling in the lower limbs. Inclining your back can reduce swelling around your face and eyes.

    How Long Does Edema After Giving Birth Last?

    Edema after giving birth should subside within a week or so. Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet and drinking plenty of water can help flush out the excess fluid faster. Doing light exercise during pregnancy and after giving birth reduces swelling and prevents complications such as deep-vein thrombosis (DVT).

    Running on the treadmill is not necessary, as simply walking for 10 minutes every few hours is enough to prevent pooling of fluid. Not to mention, getting some exercise can help with symptoms of postpartum depression or baby blues.

    However, if you experience edema with pain, redness, or skin discoloration, it is not normal postpartum edema. Talk to your doctor immediately if the edema doesn’t subside after 2 weeks or it gets worse.

    Key Takeaways

    In summary, edema or swelling is a normal part of pregnancy that persists after giving birth. There is nothing to worry about as the swelling should disappear within a week. However, edema that is accompanied by severe pain, discoloration, or fever may be signs and symptoms of underlying diseases. Consult your doctor right away if edema lasts longer than 2 weeks or seems to be getting worse despite these suggestions and remedies.

    Learn more about Mother Care and the Post Partum Period here


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Written by

    Stephanie Nera, RPh, PharmD


    Updated Jun 16, 2021

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