If pregnancy has decorated your legs with a mass of messy, swollen veins you’re not alone. According to London’s British Varicose Vein Centre, “40 percent of pregnant women experience problems with varicose veins of the leg and or vulva during their pregnancy”. And yes you heard right – some poor mums-to-be develop the bulging red veins in their vulva.
What is a varicose vein?
A varicose vein is a vein that has become unusually dilated (open) and full of blood. When there is more blood than normal in a vein it appears swollen, and blue or purple in colour. They may also be lumpy, bulging or twisted – pretty nasty really.
As well as being darned ugly varicose veins can throb, ache and be very uncomfortable.
They develop when the small valves that open and close to let blood flow to the heart stop working properly. If the valves are damaged or weakened the blood can flow backwards and collect in the vein, eventually causing it to be swollen and enlarged (varicose).
“You can imagine that in pregnancy not only do the blood vessels and valves have more work to do because of the increase in circulating volume but there is also an expanding womb sitting on top of them adding to their workload,” says Dr Claire Hein.
“I noticed varicose veins on either side of my bump, i had them at around 28 weeks,” mum Leanne_Furley on our forum says. “I was told it’s normal and it’s coz the skin has stretched out thin. They did feel a bit sore though, so Palmers stuff helped ease them a bit, plus it helped my stretchmarks too.”
Why does pregnancy cause varicose veins?
“In your 3rd trimester, your blood volume is 30% higher and that blood has to go somewhere,” explains Consultant Vascular Surgeon, Professor Mark Whiteley of The Whiteley Clinic.
“This increase in the amount of blood can put pressure on the valves in your veins and, when put hand in hand with the pregnancy hormone progesterone, it can cause your blood vessels to relax and swell.
“In addition, as your uterus expands to accommodate your growing baby it can put pressure on the vena cava – the large vein on that returns de-oxygenated blood to the right side of the heart. This has a domino effect putting pressure on the veins in your legs, which causes them to expand.”
What else causes them?
If your mum suffers, or suffered from, varicose veins you’re unfortunately more likely to get them too – this goes for whether you’re pregnant or not. If you got them in your first pregnancy you’ll probably get them in later pregnancies too because your veins weaken with each pregnancy.
“Certainly, if you’ve had varicose veins in one pregnancy you are more likely to get them in a subsequent one,” says Dr Claire Hein, an obstetrician. “Advice here would be to trouble shoot and wear compression stockings to help the blood return system do its job.”
“I got them just on one leg at the end of my first pregnancy,” lisagreener on our forum tells us. “Mostly spider veins but a nasty varicose running from my groin to mid thigh and another small one around my knee.”
Multiple births (twins, triplets etc) can increase your chances of developing varicose veins because the added blood in your circulatory system puts stress on your circulatory system.
Can you really get them in your vagina
Yes! Horrific as it sounds (and it is) vulval varicosities – swollen veins around your vagina – do happen in pregnancy.
A small number of women develop varicose veins in the surface veins on the vulva – sometimes very large swollen veins can appear. These can cause irritation or an aching discomfort.
“I had this with my third pregnancy too from around 34wks,” says jojomummy. “Don’t sit on a rubber ring as this will make it worse and cause the blood to pool in the area and make it feel throbbing.
“I found sleeping on my side with a cushion between my legs to keep them slightly apart most comfortable (i have a “dream genie pillow and its my best friend lol).
“To help when sitting if you get a large towel and fold it in half long ways then start rolling it from both ends so you end up with two sausages next to each other this makes a kind on valley cushion to sit on, you have support under each leg but a slight space between your lady bits to take the pressure off you can also do this with a v-pillow pushing each half together with a space in between or even hire a valley cushion. A bit of lavender oil in the bath is very soothing too.”
Some women worry that varicosities will rupture during delivery and cause heavy bleeding are but this isn’t usually the case. If they do bleed it’s usually only light and it won’t affect your birth.
Ouch they’re really painful and sore. What can I do?
Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment other than avoiding long periods of standing – this stops the blood from pooling in your veins.
Wearing support, or compression stockings is a good idea which may help relieve the pain, discomfort and swelling in your legs caused by your varicose veins. Compression stockings steadily squeeze your legs, to improve circulation and encourage blood to flow upwards towards your heart. and using something like the pillow jojomummy mentions can help, too.
Will they go after I give birth?
Fortunately, varicose veins often improve after birth and vulval varicosities are likely to completely disappear once you have given birth.
Can you get varicose veins from giving birth?
Yes, unfortunately you can. “As your body relaxes your ligaments in preparation for birth, it also relaxes the veins,” explains Professor Mark Whiteley.
“During a vaginal delivery, your baby’s head stretches the veins in your pelvis and ruptures the valves, allowing blood to flow through into the veins in your legs, making them more visible.
“Problem veins on the thighs and lower legs in new mums who have had a vaginal birth are often due to varicose veins in the vulva and vagina, which most doctors do not look for.”