What Causes Swelling After Pregnancy?

After giving birth, many new mothers expect that the hard part of pregnancy is over, or, at least, that the body will return to its pre-pregnancy state. Many women are surprised to find that the swelling in their body actually increases postpartum, leading to general discomfort or even pain which can interfere with the tasks of motherhood. Even women who experience no swelling during pregnancy may find themselves with swollen feet or hands after delivery.

But what causes swelling after pregnancy? It's partially due to changes that take place during pregnancy and partially due to the delivery process itself. The body produces higher-than-normal levels of the hormone progesterone during pregnancy, which causes the body to retain both sodium and water [source: Baby Partner]. At the same time, the expanding uterus presses against the veins in the legs, restricting blood flow to the legs, feet and ankles, which leads to fluid build-up in the lower part of the body [source: Curtis and Schuler]. With all the fluid that can build up over the nine months of pregnancy, it's no surprise that this swelling doesn't automatically go away after the baby is born.

To further add to the problem, the physical process of pushing during a vaginal birth also sends excess blood and fluid toward the body's extremities, which leads to swelling in the hands, feet, legs and even the face [source Parents.com].

While general swelling can be uncomfortable, some of the most painful swelling may be found at incision sites. Swelling around a C-section incision is normal for the first few days after delivery, and this painful swelling can make it difficult to care for a baby. Additional swelling and bruising is often found at the perineum, especially when the mom has undergone an episiotomy or experienced vaginal tearing.

Finally, new moms should expect some general swelling all over due to the effects of IV fluids. Those who have undergone a C-section normally receive anesthesia and other medications through an IV, while mothers who experienced a vaginal birth are often administered medications, such as Pitocin, through an IV. These excess fluids can add to the high levels of blood and fluid that are already present in the body -- and it may take several days for them to exit the body [source: Palo Alto Medical Foundation].

With so many different things that can contribute to swelling after pregnancy, what's a new mom to do to reduce it? Read on to learn about some possible remedies for swelling after pregnancy and how to fit these remedies into your postpartum care plan.