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Why Do Feet Go Up A Size In Pregnancy - And Will They Go Back?

Published: 08 June 2022 - Women’s Health

Pregnancy causes many changes to the body, some expected – like a growing baby bump, and some surprising – like noticing that your feet appear longer or wider. If you’re pregnant and suddenly notice that your shoes don’t fit like they used to, or you’re now getting rub marks or blisters on shoes you’ve had for a while, you’re not alone - around 50% of women report changes to their feet during pregnancy. 


Here’s why your feet appear to get bigger, what to do if it happens, and how you can stay comfortable on your feet throughout your pregnancy.   


Why Do Feet Appear to Grow During Pregnancy?

Technically speaking, your feet do not grow, but they can widen or lengthen. Each foot contains 26 bones and more than 30 joints that are held together and supported by ligaments. During pregnancy, a number of things can happen that can affect these ligaments, from hormones to increases in weight, as well as foot swelling, all of which can contribute to your feet appearing longer or wider. These include:


The effects of pregnancy hormones

During pregnancy, a hormone called relaxin circulates around your body. Relaxin has several important functions including helping your body manage the natural increases in blood flow from the pregnancy, and relaxing our ligaments, particularly around the pelvis, to assist with childbirth. While acting on your pelvis, it can also act on other ligaments around the body - including the feet. As a result, the foot can flatten and appear wider. This flattening and widening is also exacerbated due to the additional weight of your growing baby putting downward pressure on your feet. 

While some women find that their feet regain their natural shape and arch in the months after delivery, many women continue to live with changes to their arch and foot structure, which has been shown in studies to be the most significant in a woman’s first pregnancy.


The effects of changes to weight and centre of gravity 

Weight gain during pregnancy isn’t just normal and healthy - it’s a necessity given the weight of the structures supporting your pregnancy, which include:

  • Baby: 3-4kg
  • Placenta: 450g - 900g
  • Amniotic fluid: ~900g
  • Uterus: ~900g
  • Maternal breast tissue: ~900g
  • Maternal blood: ~1.8kg
  • Fluids in maternal tissue: ~1.8kg
  • Maternal fat and nutrient stores: 3kgs+

Altogether, that’s at least 13kg as a conservative amount for the basics of sustaining pregnancy - a figure which is naturally higher in many women. Now, imagine carrying a 13kg weight out in front of you - not only does this significantly increase the demand on your feet with every step and contribute to their flattening as well as the change in width and length, but it also shifts your centre of gravity forwards. This means the tilt of your pelvis and how you walk naturally changes, which can be a source of discomfort in your hips and knees. For your feet, it can mean that additional pressure is applied to your midfoot and big toe, particularly later in pregnancy. 

The good news is that after childbirth, this weight significantly reduces, meaning that your centre of gravity gradually returns throughout the postpartum period, and the effects on your feet reduce.


The effects of swelling

During a normal pregnancy, your total body water increases by up to 8 litres - that’s up to 32 cups of water. Due to the effects of both gravity and the pressure from the growing uterus, swelling often becomes noticeable in our feet and legs, as the body must work much harder to move fluids up the legs against gravity, causing it to pool. When the feet are swollen, they can appear bigger and wider.

This is usually another temporary change during pregnancy, which can become prevalent in the second and third trimesters, resolving after delivery as your natural fluid volume is reduced and the pressure from the uterus is no longer present.


Foot Changes During Pregnancy: What Can I Do?

While the changes that your feet undergo are a normal part of pregnancy, it doesn’t mean that you simply have to put up with any pain or discomfort that may occur as a result. Here are some pregnancy-safe foot and leg care tips:

  • If you’re struggling with swelling or want to help prevent it, try compression stockings. These have been shown in studies to help prevent swelling in the feet and legs during pregnancy., Additionally, compression has been found to notably reduce the development of varicose veins.
  • Opt for wearing shoes that accommodate your orthotics (if you have any), or otherwise choose shoes with in-built arch support as much as possible. By supporting your feet and arches when you walk, you help to reduce your likelihood of developing pregnancy-related foot pain. 
  • Avoid sitting or standing still for long periods of time - when we sit or stand for long periods, it can lead to swelling in the feet and legs, which can increase your discomfort.
  • Stop wearing any shoes that now cause foot pain, blisters or general discomfort due to the changes to your feet, even if they used to be a painless fit beforehand. 
  • Treat foot pain or injury early. With the extra pressure on your feet, many women are prone to foot pain or injury. If this occurs, see your podiatrist early for treatment.


Pregnancy is an exciting time - but with it spanning nine months, persevering with foot pain can quickly make daily life challenging and even more exhausting. Our podiatrists understand the demands on your feet that pregnancy brings, and can work with you to help you maximise your comfort and your quality of life through the trimesters.


Book your appointment with our podiatrists at a clinic near you online here.