You can have varicose veins whether you’re pregnant or not, but those conspicuous, bulging veins become more common when you’re pregnant. Varicose veins are veins that are swollen in size, more superficial, and sometimes tender. They’re most likely to show up on your legs. These bloated veins can also cause symptoms. For example, you might experience burning, itching, or even pain around the swollen veins. Especially at the end of the day, your legs may feel heavy and sore. Some lucky women have few or no symptoms with varicose veins.
Varicose veins become more common later in pregnancy, as your uterus enlarges. As the uterus and baby grow, it places pressure on a large vein, called the inferior vena cava This is a vessel that carries blood back to your heart. With so much pressure on the vein, blood gets “stuck” and pools in the legs. In response, the veins in your lower legs swell and become larger in response to the extra pressure and blood. Because they’re close to the surface of the skin, the veins look purple or blue in color.
Hormonal changes are also a contributing factor to varicose veins during pregnancy. One hormone that rises when you’re pregnant is progesterone. Progesterone causes the walls of your blood vessels, including your veins, to become more elastic or “stretchy” and dilate easier. If you had varicose veins before becoming pregnant, you may find they become larger or you develop more of them. If they previously didn’t cause symptoms, you may discover that they do now.
Varicose veins become particularly troublesome in the late second trimester and third trimester of pregnancy as your uterus expands. You’re more likely to get them if you’re overweight, gains lots of weight during pregnancy, or have a family history of varicose veins. As uncomfortable as they might be, varicose veins pose no threat to you or your baby.
Although there’s no sure-fire way to prevent varicose veins when you’re pregnant, there are things you can do to reduce the risk of getting them or ease the discomfort if you do develop them. Here are some tips:
Move more. Walking and keeping your legs moving helps return blood back to your heart so it doesn’t pool in your legs. Take walking breaks every 15 minutes if you regularly sit in a chair.
Change your foot and leg wear. Support or compression hose give your legs extra support and boost blood flow back to your heart. Wear comfortable shoes as well.
Reduce the amount of salt in your diet. Sodium increases fluid retention, which increases pressure on your veins. Also, drink water to flush sodium out of your body.
Add more fiber to your diet. Straining when having a bowel movement places pressure on the veins in your legs and can spawn hemorrhoids. In reality, hemorrhoids are swollen dilated veins in your anal area, no different than varicose veins.
When you’re sitting, keep your legs elevated whenever possible. This will encourage blood flow back to your heart.
When lying down, lie on your side to take pressure off the veins in your legs.
Varicose veins are an annoyance and an uncomfortable one at that. Once you’ve delivered, talk to your physician about treatments for this common vein malady.
American Pregnancy Association. “Treating Varicose Veins Naturally During Pregnancy”
WebMD. “Pregnancy: Varicose Veins – Topic Overview”