It can be an uncomfortable side-effect of pregnancy but can varicose veins cause harm? Here’s the information…
Varicose veins in pregnancy: why you get them
When you’re pregnant you have more blood circulating around your body, as well as the hormone progesterone. It’s progesterone that relaxes your blood vessel walls (University of Rochester Medical Center, 2018).
When valves that control blood flow weaken – which is common in pregnancy – that causes areas of blood to collect in pools. This makes the walls of that vein stretch and sag, and the vein looks lumpy and blue under your skin, AKA a varicose vein (Smyth et al, 2015).
You’ll be more prone to varicose veins if:
- you have family members who have suffered from them
- you're overweight
- you do a job where you're on your feet a lot.
(Greenstone et al, 1957, Smyth et al, 2015)
Women are more likely than men to get varicose veins anyway, for hormonal reasons (Smyth et al, 2015). And that means that in pregnancy, when there are a whole load of changes to your hormones, it’s common for varicosities to develop (Smyth et al, 2015). A previous pregnancy and increasing age can also make you more likely to get varicose veins (Smyth et al, 2015).
The most common place to get varicose veins is in your legs but you might also get varicose veins in other parts of your body. This includes in and around your vagina: vulvar varicose veins and around your pelvis, as the womb (uterus) grows in pregnancy (Smyth et al, 2015).
Will varicose veins cause me pain?
They shouldn’t do. At most, varicose veins can be uncomfortable but you can manage them with some simple steps:
- Avoid sitting with your legs crossed (especially watch this if you work at a desk).
- Avoid standing up or sitting still for a long time.
- Avoid putting on excessive amounts of weight – obviously, you’ll put on weight in pregnancy but stick to a balanced diet so your weight gain is within recommended limits.
- Put your feet up as often as you can.
- Try compression tights, which can help ease the symptoms, if your midwife recommends them.
- Sleep with your legs higher than the rest of your body.
- Keep active with walking and swimming (particularly great for varicose veins).
- Try foot exercises – bending and stretching your foot up and down 30 times, rotating it eight times one way and eight times the other then repeating on the other foot.
(Greenstone et al, 1957; Smyth et al, 2015; NHS, 2018; University of Rochester Medical Center, 2018)
Varicose veins: what are the symptoms?
Symptoms of varicose veins (apart from being able to see them) are:
- achiness, heaviness or discomfort
- muscle cramps, especially overnight
- burning or throbbing in your legs
- swollen feet and ankles
- tender, painful vulva if you have vulvar varicose veins.
(NICE, 2013; Smyth et al, 2015)
Can varicose veins cause problems for the baby or during the birth?
No, even vulvar varicose veins probably won’t affect how you give birth. This is because varicose veins usually have a low level of blood flow through them (Mayo Clinic, 2018). Just make sure your midwife knows if you have vulvar varicose veins. That’s because your midwife could help you to have a gentle and slow delivery to lower the chance of the veins bleeding (Furuta et al, 2013).
Will varicose veins need treatment, e.g. sclerotherapy?
If your varicose veins haven’t gone away six months after you have your baby, you could consider:
- heat-sealing the vein, using intense radiofrequency, or lasers,
- sclerotherapy, where foam is injected into the vein to close it up or
- surgery to remove a section of the vein.
(NICE, 2013; Smyth et al, 2015)
Be aware though that these treatments won’t be available on the NHS so might be pricey.
This page was last reviewed in August 2018.
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Furuta N, Kondoh E, Yamada S, Kawasaki K, Ueda A, Moqami H, Konishi I. (2013) Vaginal delivery in the presence of huge vulvar varicosities: a case report with MRI evaluation. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 167(2):127-131. Available at: https://repository.kulib.kyoto-u.ac.jp/dspace/bitstream/2433/173408/1/j.ejogrb.2012.11.024.pdf [Accessed 14th August 2018].
Greenstone SM, Craig Heringman C, Massell TB. (1957) Management of varicose veins during pregnancy. Calif Med. 87(6):365-367. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1512200/ [Accessed 14th August 2018].
Mayo Clinic. (2018) What causes vulvar varicosities during pregnancy, and how can I relieve the related discomfort? Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/expert-answers/vulvar-varicosities-during-pregnancy/faq-20419426 [Accessed 14th August 2018].
NHS Choices. (2018) Common health problems in pregnancy. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/common-pregnancy-problems/#varicose-veins [Accessed 14th August 2018].
NICE. (2013) Varicose veins: diagnosis and management. Clinical guideline [CG168]. Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg168/ifp/chapter/Varicose-veins-in-the-legs [Accessed 14th August 2018].
Rhabi Y, Charras‐Arthapignetic C, Gris JC, Ayoub J, Brun JF, Lopez FM, et al. (2000) Lower limb vein enlargement and spontaneous blood flow echogenicity are normal sonographic findings during pregnancy. J Clinical Ultrasound. 28(8):407‐413. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10993968
Smyth RMD, Aflaifel N, Bamigboye AA. (2015) Interventions for varicose veins and leg oedema in pregnancy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. (10):CD001066. Available at: https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD001066.pub3/full [Accessed 14th August 2018].
University of Rochester Medical Center. (2018) Hemorrhoids and Varicose Veins in Pregnancy. Available at: https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=134&contentid=9 [Accessed 14th August 2018].