You may have noticed that your Granny has them, or even your Mum, but surely it can’t be your time yet?!  We really, really hope you don’t succumb to the ‘joys’ of varicose veins or their partner in crime, haemorrhoids, but unfortunately one of the downsides of pregnancy is that you’re likely to experience one or the other and possibly both!

The cause

Most often found in the legs, these bulging purple/blue veins appear when the veins (or more specifically the valves within the veins) are put under pressure.  As the valves fail to work properly, blood will leak and flow backwards, collecting in your veins and causing them to become swollen and enlarged.  Your pregnancy is likely to cause this in three ways:

  • Extra blood circulates around your body to help support the developing baby, putting extra strain on your veins
  • Your body is producing increasing amounts of progesterone to maintain the pregnancy, but this also relaxes your blood vessel walls
  • The baby, placenta and your womb are all putting extra pressure on the veins in your pelvis and your legs

The symptoms

Apart from the obvious visual symptoms, you may also notice:

  • itching and discomfort in the skin over the vein
  • swollen feet and ankles
  • muscle cramps at night
  • heavy, aching legs

How can I avoid getting varicose veins?

The short answer is that you probably can’t, particularly if you’ve had them in previous pregnancies, have been pregnant before or have a family history.  The good news is that in most cases, they will disappear once you’ve had your baby.  However there are some steps you can take to prevent or at least calm them when they do appear…

  1. The major blood vessel on the right of your body feels  a lot of the pressure from your pregnancy.  Try sleeping on your left side to reduce this pressure.  If you’re not doing it already for comfort, sleep with your feet on a pillow and use a wedge style pillow behind your back
  2. Keep moving! Sitting or standing for long periods will aggravate varicose veins.
  3. Gentle exercise helps to improve blood flow – we’re not talking about running marathons, just a brisk walk!
  4. Uncross those legs – let’s face it, its more comfortable that way anyway!  If possible put your feet up on a box or stool if you’re sitting at a desk all day.
  5. We know you’ll be eating a healthy diet anyway, but keeping your weight down will reduce the risk of varicose veins developing.

Haemorrhoids/Piles

This are actually varicose veins, but they develop in the rectal area.  The cause is much the same, especially as this area is affected more by the weight of the baby – they’re also exacerbated by another common pregnancy complaint, constipation.  In addition to the bulbous veins which you may notice when you go to the loo, you may experience the following symptoms too:

  • Bright red blood after you’ve been to the loo, which you may see when you wipe your bottom.
  • Soreness and inflammation around your anus, which can make going to the loo uncomfortable.
  • Mucus discharge after a bowel movement.
  • Feeling like still need to go, even after you’ve just had a poo.
  • Itching around your bottom.

Again if you’re going to get them, there’s probably not much you can do, but you can avoid constipation which is one of the biggest causes of piles by eating a high fibre diet, drinking between six and eight glasses of water a day and cutting out caffeine.   Keep your toilet habits in check by going as soon as you have the urge, not straining and try elevating your feet when you poo – this position may mean you have to strain less.

I could get them where now?!

As if piles weren’t bad enough, varicose veins of the vagina and vulva are an uncomfortable condition, most frequently seen in women during pregnancy. The veins usually stem from the pelvic or ovarian vein reflux and become more uncomfortable and visible as the veins in the pelvis dilate and become distended. Symptoms commonly associated with the condition include, pelvic aching, dragging pain, stress incontinence and discomfort around the bladder caused by the distended veins pushing against it.

Thankfully, the veins will probably disappear once your baby is born and also shouldn’t have an impact on the birth itself.  In the meantime a maternity pad, or anything that will support the area will help.  You can also try elevating your hips slightly when lying down to promote circulation.  Applying cold compresses to your vulva may soothe and ease your discomfort.