During pregnancy, while your body is going through so many changes, the last thing you want to deal with is the sudden onset of varicose veins. And accompanying that may be aching, heavy, tired legs. Even if you’ve never experienced this before, it’s fairly common in pregnancy: varicose veins occur in about 30% of first time pregnancies and 55% of subsequent pregnancies.
What causes this?
There are several reasons for the onset of varicose veins during pregnancy. As the uterus enlarges, it adds pressure to the veins in your legs. Also, the blood volume in your body increases and that can cause veins in the lower extremities to work less effectively sending blood back to your heart. As if that weren’t enough, the hormonal changes during pregnancy can also increase clotting or cause the walls of blood vessels to relax, reducing circulation.
For many women, varicose veins are bothersome without being painful and tend to ease after pregnancy. But there are a few serious, although rare, complications. One is DVT, Deep Vein Thrombosis, in which a blood clot forms in a deep vein. This clot can break loose and move into your lungs, which blocks blood flow, leading to a pulmonary embolism. Again, this is rare, affecting only about 1 in 1,000 women.
Varicose veins and complications such as DVT are more common when some of these conditions apply:
- A family history of DVT or pulmonary embolism
- Repeated miscarriages
- Carrying twins or multiples
- Standing for long periods of time
What Can I do?
Luckily, there are several ways to ease the discomfort of varicose veins and reduce the risk of DVT.
Daily exercise, even a good walk, can improve circulation.
- Try to avoid prolonged periods of standing or standing. Take a break and move around a bit.
- Don’t cross your ankles or legs when you’re sitting
- Elevate your feet and legs whenever you can. Gravity helps with circulating blood from your legs
- And, one of the best solutions is to wear compression hosiery.
According to a study in Swiss Medical Weekly, while compression stockings may not be able to prevent the onset of varicose veins during pregnancy, they can significantly reduce symptoms and help prevent more serious complications.
What Should I Wear & How?
For starters, you’ll want real compression tights or stockings, not just regular hosiery branded as ‘support hose.’ The best type of compression hose uses graduated compression, which has stronger compression at the ankle then gradually decreases as it moves up the leg. This has the effect of helping blood move more efficiently back to the heart.
Compression hose comes in various degrees of compression, measured from lower to higher with a measurement called mmhg. The lowest degree is 15-20, ranging to the strongest of 30-40 mmhg. If you don’t already have varicose veins, try starting with the lowest level of support. You don’t necessarily need full-length tights, although they are probably the most useful. Other styles include knee-highs and thigh-highs.
To keep blood from pooling, it’s best to put on compression hose before you get out of bed in the morning. They’re not as easy to put on as regular tights, so you might want to follow some tips from the National Institutes of Health. If they’re easy to put on, they’re either the wrong size or have worn out. Don’t wear your compression hose to bed at night, but do keep them close at hand for the morning.
Let’s talk about aesthetics for a minute. Although pregnancy is supposed to make us ‘glow,’ you may be feeling a little unwieldy and grumbly about your appearance. Compression tights are not a fashion statement. For the most part, they’re more opaque than regular pantyhose and they may feel hot in warm weather. Wear them anyway. Varicose veins and the more serious complications are a lot worse than being slightly less than fashionable and a little uncomfortable. And your legs will thank you.
Ames Walker has a good selection of maternity compression hose from light to firm compression. Some are relatively sheer and are offered in several skin tone colors as well as black.