Why You Should Kick Off The High Heels During Pregnancy

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Published: January 20, 2015

Health + Wellness

Some doctors will urge you not to wear heels while you are carrying your precious cargo because your body is changing rapidly while the baby is growing. While no current evidence or research is available to back the claim that wearing heels causes problems for the baby, what wearing heels during pregnancy will do is increase your chances of a fall and also make you susceptible to more problems in your lower back, legs and feet. These risks are reason enough to kick off your heels for the duration of your pregnancy.

Don’t Fall for Fashion

In 2012, the New York Times published an article about a study by Nick J. Cronin from the Musculoskeletal Research Program at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia. The study showed that high-heeled shoes actually changed the function of the tendons in the leg, as women walked “with shorter more forceful strides . . . their feet perpetually in a flexed, toes-pointed position.” This movement caused the fibers in the calf muscles to shorten, placing great strain on those muscles.

The study was conducted with young women in their late teens, twenties and early thirties, and included both women who wore heels often and those who rarely wore them. In the study, Cronin and his team discovered that the women who wore heels often required “more energy to cover the same amount of ground as people in flats,” resulting in probable “muscle fatigue.”

Muscle fatigue is especially dangerous when a woman is expecting, because it can cause the legs to become weak and increase the chances of a fall, which can of course lead to other problems during pregnancy. High heels and pregnancy weight both affect a woman’s center of gravity and sense of balance, further compounding the risk of a fall.

When Heels are a Pain

Dr. Vivian Iwu, Doctor of Podiatry Medicine (DPM) of Choice Podiatry Center in Cumming, Georgia, explains how heels interfere with normal foot placement while walking.

“The way we walk, your heel is supposed to strike the ground first, then you walk forward. Your big toe pushes you off the ground, but when you’re walking tippy-toe, you’re not allowing your heel to strike the ground. So you are walking in an inclined position [and] what it does is shorten your Achilles tendons.”

Most pregnant women already have difficulty walking because of the extra weight they are carrying and the swelling on their feet. The unnatural incline at which you walk in heels, paired with the extra weight of pregnancy, can cause overpronation. Overpronation occurs when the middle arch collapses and the heel shifts outward, leading to a variety of other problems, including plantar fasciitis.

Dr. Iwu says that plantar fasciitis is one of the main causes of heel pain in pregnant women and can occur as a result of weight gain causing pressure on the foot. It occurs when the plantar fascia, a thick band of tissue, becomes inflamed. The pain often lessens when the feet are in motion, but it can return after long periods of time.

Because the feet must support all of our body’s weight, if they are not given the proper support, the result is pain – not just in the feet, but in other parts of the body as well. Dr. Iwu points out, “It affects the back, and that is one thing that a lot of pregnant women have problems with. So when you think about the position, adding high heels will definitely make it worse.”

If a woman suffers from overpronation or plantar fasciitis (which do not occur only in pregnant women), changing from a high heel to a low-heeled or flat shoe is ideal. It is important to consult a doctor for treatment, but in the meantime, here are some suggestions for managing foot pain:

  • Keep the feet elevated when sitting.
  • Use ice on the heels of feet if they become too painful.
  • Wear night splints, which gently stretch the plantar fascia ligament and tendons to keep them from getting tight while you sleep.
  • Do some light exercises to stretch those muscles and keep them from tightening.
  • Last but not least, change those shoes and wear supportive footwear.

Put Comfort First

You may think that you can still wear those cute shoes and not suffer the consequences, but Dr. Obiamaka Mora, an obstetrician at McDaniel & Durrett, P.C. Gynecology in Atlanta, Georgia, cautions that further along in the pregnancy, heels may become uncomfortable. Dr. Mora notes, “With [the] progression of the pregnancy, especially into the late second to third trimester, women would opt to wear comfortable shoes with good support and minimal to no heel.”

Consider shoes that have great support, such as sneakers and tennis shoes. Shoes with low, wedged heels or Crocs are good to wear as well. If you work in a professional setting, a nice compromise is to wear heels while sitting down, but then to switch to ballet flats when standing for long periods of time.

Remember, kicking off your heels for a few months is not the end of the world, and it can help make your pregnancy both safer and more comfortable.

Things to look for in a pair of shoes:

  • flat or low, wide heels – no higher than half an inch
  • good arch support
  • breathable uppers (canvas or leather) that won’t trap moisture
  • easy entry – slip-ons, for example
  • larger, wider styles to accommodate swelling

More tips for foot care during pregnancy:

  • Try wearing socks with closed-toe shoes; this may increase your comfort.
  • Avoid standing for long periods without a rest.
  • Elevate your legs when possible.
  • If your feet feeling extra achy, try soaking them.

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About Alvieann Chandler

Alvieann is a recent graduate of the University of Georgia with a degree in Journalism and minor in African American studies. She is a writer and an aspiring journalist with her eyes set on covering news stories that will inspire and inform others. You can follow her on Twitter @Ms_alvie.

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