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Shoe size can change in pregnancy. Allyson Felix’s brand wants to help.

The Olympic runner’s shoe line just announced a ‘first-of-its-kind’ maternity returns policy

(Franck Robichon/Shutterstock /Washington Post illustration)
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For nearly 20 years, Erica Mintzer has held on to a pair of sleek brown leather shoes, hoping that one day her feet will magically shrink and slide back into the pricey pumps with ease.

She keeps them perched on a shoe rack in her closet as one of the few remaining relics belonging to her previous size 6.5 life. Today, Mintzer wears a size 8.5.

The change, she said, occurred over the course of two pregnancies in 2002 and 2007. “I think it actually grew each time,” said Mintzer, a 53-year-old attorney based in D.C.

Indeed, Mintzer isn’t alone. Experts say it’s relatively common for a person’s shoe size to increase after pregnancy — and permanently at that.

“It does seem to be a bit of a well-kept secret,” said Mintzer, adding that she went through some denial when she first returned to work after giving birth. “I was trying to squeeze my feet into recently purchased shoes that I wish had a maternal return policy.”

That’s now an option at one shoe company. Saysh, the lifestyle brand founded by Olympic runner Allyson Felix, recently launched a maternity returns policy for pregnant customers who experience an increase in shoe size.

“If you own a pair of Saysh Ones and your feet change size due to pregnancy we’ll send you a new pair,” Felix, the most decorated U.S. track and field athlete in history, announced in an Instagram post last week. Her hope, she added, is “that women will feel seen by the policy.”

Across social media, users praised the initiative, which has been touted as the first of its kind in the shoe industry.

“Women give up so much of themselves" to bear children, Olympian hurdler Joanna Dove Hayes commented on Felix’s post. ”To have a shoe company who understands that, while it may not seem like a very big deal to some, giving up your shoe size really is an emotional and physical adjustment.”

”What an awesome thing to do,” wrote another user on Twitter who said their shoe size went up half a size.

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According to Mary Jane Minkin, a clinical professor in the department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the Yale School of Medicine, it is common for people to go up a shoe size after a pregnancy — though she doesn’t believe there is much research on the condition. One small study in 2015 found that by 38 weeks of pregnancy, the average increase in foot length was 12 percent.

Minkin said swelling during pregnancy is “almost universal”; it occurs as blood circulation increases during pregnancy to nourish the baby. But the fluid eventually drains after giving birth, Minkin added. The change some birthing people experience in shoe size has to do more with hormones and weight gain, according to WebMD. The extra pounds gained during pregnancy can add pressure to the feet, flattening their arch. Meanwhile, the hormone relaxin loosens muscle ligaments to prepare for childbirth, which can also cause feet to spread and widen.

Nicole Elias, 38, said her shoe size grew from 7.5 to 8.5 after giving birth.

“During pregnancy, it was clear that my feet were just expanding,” she said. “And so I found myself wearing a lot of flip flops and tennis shoes that have more give — and especially more casual shoes in professional settings.”

A gender equity scholar based in New York City, Elias said she thinks often about the little-known expenses women take on — such as tampon taxes or the cost to ship breast milk back home when they are away for work.

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Acknowledging the financial burden of having to overhaul a shoe wardrobe, Elias said she believes that Saysh’s new policy is a great step toward mitigating a surprise expense that expectant parents might face: “This is truly a fantastic way to approach cutting the economic costs for women associated with life events.”

For Felix, meeting these practical needs is a main objective of her business.

After parting ways with her former sponsor, Nike, in 2019 over the company’s maternity policy, her brother, Wes, approached her with the idea to start her own brand. “I was like, ‘That sounds crazy,’ ” Felix told People magazine in an interview last year. “But the more I sat with it, I was like, ‘Wow, this is an opportunity.’ Instead of asking for change to actually be that change and to create it.”

The brand, she said, is focused on fostering a community for women and fighting gender inequality. “It’s been incredible to be able to build this company and to build it in a way that was so different than my own experiences,” she told People.

According to a recent Instagram post, the company’s new policy is part of a series of announcements Felix will share in an effort to make the world better for women. It comes days after Felix announced she will retire from athletics at the end of the 2022 season.

Elias emphasized the need to see more women in executive leadership roles, who can bring their perspectives to help companies shape their business strategies to better serve women and marginalized communities.

“I actually truly hope that this becomes a movement,” Elias said. “I hope that other companies really take this sort of thing into account.”

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