Our bodies radically transform during pregnancy. We experience a rush of hormones, our posture shifts, and ligaments become lax as the fetus grows and the uterus expands, putting pressure on the bladder and abdominal muscles, which often separate, inducing diastasis recti. Externally, our hips, belly, and breasts stretch and grow. We experience weight gain, postpartum swelling, and puffiness in our feet, legs, ankles, hands, and face. It's part of the motherhood journey but often not comfortable, and after giving birth, these changes don't magically disappear overnight.
How Long Does it Take for Postpartum Swelling to Go Down?
Over 60% of childbearing women experience some degree of abdominal separation postpartum, which can contribute to a host of symptoms, including back pain, incontinence, and a persistent pooch that doesn't respond to diet or exercise. Another lingering effect of pregnancy is edema, also known as swelling. The body produces 50% more fluid during pregnancy, and this extra fluid accounts for nearly 25% of the weight women gain during pregnancy [source: American Pregnancy Association]. Postpartum swelling *should go down naturally in the weeks following delivery, but here are 4 tips to reduce it and support recovery from home.
Note on your uterus postpartum: It often takes 6-8 weeks for the uterus to shrink back to pre-pregnancy size (this can result in postpartum cramping). And it can take a bit longer for the uterus to complete the return to baseline with each subsequent pregnancy.
4 Tips to Reduce Postpartum Swelling
Before we begin, it’s important to note that postpartum swelling is more common following c-sections and long labors during which an IV is administered. If you have an IV administered during birth, you will likely experience far more dramatic swelling than from pregnancy alone, but the good news is that it’s temporary.
Exercise has anti-inflammatory effects and is one of the most effective ways to reduce water retention and achieve a healthy balance in your body. This is why our first tip for reducing postpartum swelling is to establish a postpartum exercise routine. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends postpartum women get "150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week," which can be resumed (with care provider approval) shortly after a vaginal delivery and approximately 6 weeks following a cesarean.
We recommend starting with our OB-endorsed EMbody Reclaim, early postpartum path, which eases mothers into recovery during the first six weeks postpartum. Followed by our Reclaim classic path, which continues to offer therapeutic programming that helps reduce inflammation and get your system moving postpartum. Best of all, our program will help you restore core strength and function and resolve diastasis recti, which can leave women feeling and looking pregnant months (and even years!) after childbirth.
You can also reduce your risk of postpartum swelling by getting ahead of it with a prenatal workout routine. Learn more about our EMbody Prepare Path and the benefits of working out while pregnant here.
Massage is a very effective method to reduce swelling postpartum. Not only does it increase circulation and lymphatic drainage, but it also helps to improve milk production, hormone regulation, reduce anxiety, and increase sleep quality. Whether you can see a professional or administer one to yourself, massage can do wonders in postpartum recovery.
Note: Swelling can appear concurrently with scar tissue adhesion caused by vaginal tears and perineal lacerations following vaginal birth or c-section surgery. Learn more about how to relieve pain and discomfort with postpartum scar tissue massage from Jordan Mrosewske, PT, DPT.
Reduce Salt Intake
Salt is great in moderation. It enhances the flavor of foods, all while helping to regulate body function. But when consumed in excess, it can increase blood pressure, water retention, and much more. Packaged foods are often the primary source of hidden salt, so we recommend swapping them for superfoods packed with vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, protein, and antioxidants. Avoiding processed foods and salting food to taste will minimize excess water retention caused by diet and allow your body to flush out what's leftover from pregnancy.
Tip: A whole-foods diet, inclusive of leafy greens such as kale and spinach and fresh fruits like blueberries and apples, makes for a happy body and will help you better understand what it needs in terms of salt content. Always salt your food to taste, and remember, both water and salts are necessary for balance (salts = electrolytes) and support healthy hydration.
Check out this list of 13 superfoods that support fertility, pregnancy, and breastfeeding for a curated selection of nutritious foods.
It may seem contradictory, but drinking water reduces excess water retention and is an important tool in fighting postpartum swelling. Dehydration can cause your body to hold on to fluids you would naturally flush out, exacerbating the perfectly normal swelling you are experiencing after delivery. There is no one-size-fits-all amount of water to drink per day (doctors recommend eight 8oz glasses); however, thirst should be your guide, and if you're breastfeeding, know you need more.
Check out this guide on 6 myths and tips to stay hydrated.
Additional Tips to Reduce Postpartum Swelling
- Elevate your feet against a wall
- Wear compression socks
- Roll out your muscles on a foam roller
- Reduce caffeine intake
- Introduce high water content foods into your diet, like sliced cucumbers and crushed watermelon, that further help the body release swelling. Try adding them to a tall glass of cold water for extra flare.
*If postpartum swelling persists long after delivery or is causing pain, see a care provider.
Every Mother unlocks a scientifically proven method to strengthen the body during pregnancy and rebuild it after birth, regardless of how long it has been since you became a mother. We’re a knowledge circle, a community, and a celebration— of the mother you’ve become, and the woman you’ve been all along. Learn more about the EMbody Program™ here.