I had my first child, and now my shoes don’t fit anymore! Many women appear to have this problem: During pregnancy, their feet seem to have grown. But is that scientifically true or are women just imagining it? This question once became the subject of a doctoral thesis. Physician Johannes Christian Hentschel regularly measured the feet of 40 expectant mothers during pregnancy. The research showed that pregnant women’s feet did get bigger in length, width, and size.
On average, their foot became 1.8 mm longer and 2 mm wider during pregnancy. This increase in length corresponds to about a quarter of a shoe size, the doctoral thesis says. And the right foot grew more than the left.
So it’s obviously not imagination. Towards the end of pregnancy, the phenomenon occurred to a greater or lesser extent in almost all women. 70 percent of them still had shoes that fit, 30 percent needed a larger shoe size or had to put on shoes that were cut a little wider.
More water in the feet
The feet of a pregnant woman get larger because the body retains extra water in the tissues. As the uterus grows, it puts pressure on lymph vessels and veins in the pelvis. Because of the increased pressure in the veins, blood from the foot flows more slowly back to the heart, causing backlogging. This causes more water to seep from the blood and get trapped in the tissues. This is most visible in the feet due to gravity.
Pregnancy hormones further facilitate this growth in the foot size by relaxing the tissue to allow the uterus to expand. However, this also facilitates water transport from the circulatory system into the tissues Compression stockings are recommended for pregnant women who have this fluid retention. They allow less water to be absorbed by the tissue due to the external pressure put on the legs. Although the compression stockings do not stop the feet from growing during pregnancy, they slow the process down significantly.
Usually just a passing phase
Thankfully, these alterations are temporary. A second round of water loss occurs in the weeks after giving birth. After that, the feet go back to their original size, according to the research. It may take up to 6 weeks for this to happen. The process repeats again with each new pregnancy.
In his doctoral thesis, Hentschel interviewed women with children of kindergarten age. Some of them also reported that they only had to wear larger shoes temporarily, but were able to return to their old shoe size after some time. Some, on the other hand, said their shoe size had permanently changed. But, these are subjective answers. The researcher did not measure how the feet changed in the period after birth.
The feet can still grow without pregancy
Incidentally, even without pregnancy, the feet can still increase in size with age. Because the body tissue gradually loses its elasticity as you get older. The arch of the foot also slowly gives way to years of pressure from the body’s weight and becomes somewhat flatter. As a result, the bearing surface of the foot increases. It becomes longer and wider. Older people may need one or even two larger sizes of shoes.