Foot problems during and after pregnancy

Extracts originally published in Pregnancy and Birth magazine.

It is well known that women’s bodies change in many ways during pregnancy.

But many mothers-to-be are not aware of the impact pregnancy has on their feet and that without appropriate foot wear, these changes can lead to painful foot problems.

“I see a lot of women who find a year after giving birth, their feet are significantly wider and painful,” explains Juliet Mollica, a podiatrist at the London Foot and Ankle Centre.

“The changes to the feet which take place during pregnancy are little understood and are often hidden by swelling.”

There are increases in the hormones oestrogen and relaxin, in preparation for childbirth. These hormones stretch and elongate collogen, the protein within ligaments, explains Mrs Mollica.

“The laxity in a woman’s ligaments means the foot is more likely to roll inwards, causing increased stress, particularly in the arch of the foot.

“What makes this problem far worse is that many women’s feet swell and so they wear flip-flops, particularly in the later stages of pregnancy.

“Flip-flops provide very poor support for the foot, particularly the arch, which connects the forefoot to the heel.

“It is very important to wear supportive shoes during pregnancy. If you find flip-flops comfortable, limit the amount of time you wear them and wear more supportive shoes if you need to be on your feet for a long period of time.

“If you have had any foot or ankle problems before pregnancy, you will be more at risk and should be careful to select very supportive shoes.

“However, if arch pain develops, a simple arch support can be very effective in terms of eliminating the pain.”

Many women are frustrated that long after pregnancy, their feet remain a size larger than pre-pregnancy and favourite shoes are too tight.

“The feet can widen during pregnancy very significantly because of the combination of laxity in the muscles and ligaments plus weight gain.

“It varies for each woman. For some, the ligaments do tighten after pregnancy, but for others, ligaments will remain elongated and foot structure weakened.

“A significant number of women will find their feet have permanently changed following pregnancy. Unfortunately, some shoes will be too narrow and they will need to invest in wider fitting footwear.”