When you’re expecting a baby, it’s only natural to wonder how your body will change. From morning sickness to nasal congestion and sore gums, even bigger feet, pregnancy sure can change things! You may even notice a few varicose veins pop up.
I know that sounds dreadful, so let’s unpack that last one. In this post, we’ll cover:
- Causes of varicose veins
- Risks of varicose veins
- Natural remedies for varicose veins
- Plus, how to prevent varicose veins
What Are Varicose Veins?
If you’ve ever noticed twisted, bumpy, or lumpy veins, those are mostly likely varicose veins. Varicose veins are veins that are distended, or swollen from the inside. (In fact, the word “varicose” means permanently distended!) This swelling happens when veins aren’t functioning correctly.
Varicose veins can occur on the legs, ankles, and even the genital area. If a varicose vein affects the rectum, it is called a hemorrhoid. Ouch!
The following image depicts an ankle affected with varicose veins (left) and an ankle without varicose veins (right):
Varicose Veins vs Spider Veins
People often use varicose veins and spider veins as synonyms, but they are two separate conditions. (source)
Varicose veins are:
- Enlarged and bulging
- Blue, red, or skin-colored
- Commonly found on thighs, backs of the calves, and the inside the leg
Spider veins are:
- Much smaller than varicose veins
- Closer to the surface of the skin
- Red or blue
- Often found on the legs and face
The picture on the left shows the ropey, twisted veins of varicose veins, while the image on the right illustrates the red and blue clustered spider veins.
Beyond the physical differences, spider veins tend to be asymptomatic, while varicose veins may cause uncomfortable symptoms like heaviness, aching, swelling, throbbing, itching, cramps, and restless legs. Varicose veins also more commonly lead to secondary conditions, like swelling, ulcers, and even blood clots. (source)
What Causes Varicose Veins
To understand how varicose veins form, let’s first have a mini lesson on circulation.
- In a healthy individual, the heart beats and pumps blood throughout the body. In order to keep blood flowing in the right direction, there are valves that prevent blood from pooling or flowing in the wrong direction.
- If the valves are not working properly, blood can pool in your veins, causing varicose veins.
Some reasons valves malfunction include:
- Poor circulation: Poor circulation occurs when blood vessels are blocked. This interrupts the normal flow of blood, which can cause valves to malfunction. As a result, poor circulation cause increase your chances of developing varicose veins. (source)
- Pregnancy: Increased hormone levels, blood volume and weight can cause veins to enlarge. An enlarged uterus can also cause excess pressure on veins. (source)
- Menopause: During menopause, hormonal changes relax veins, disrupting the normal flow of blood. (source)
- Lifestyle factors: Standing for long periods of time, obesity, and leg injury can all put additional pressure on veins. (source)
- Age: Veins weaken and stretch over time, which puts older people at greater risk for varicose veins. (source)
Varicose Vein Risk Factors
Varicose veins affect both men and women, but as you can see from above, varicose veins are more common in women, older individuals, obese people, and those who stand for long periods of time.
Because of that, hairdressers, teachers, postal workers, retail employees, and anyone else who stands for hours on end, are, unfortunately, more prone to varicose veins. (See below for natural remedies and ways to prevent varicose veins!)
Varicose Veins in Pregnancy
Experts estimate that somewhere between 10 to 20 percent of pregnant women experience varicose veins, with cases ranging from mild to severe.
During pregnancy, the growing baby can put a lot of pressure on mama’s veins—and that includes the veins in the legs, specifically the vena cava. (source)
The vena cava is the large vein that carries blood from your feet and legs back to the heart, and because of this, pregnant mamas may notice varicose veins popping up anywhere below the belt — the feet, legs, and, yes, even the vagina and buttocks. (source) When veins are already compromised by frequent standing, age, and other risk factors, it increases the likelihood that you’ll notice varicose veins popping up during pregnancy.
If you’re part of the 20 percent of women with varicose veins during pregnancy, there is good news! Many mamas notice that varicose veins tend to resolve in about three to 12 months after baby is born.
How to Get Rid of Varicose Veins
Most healthcare providers suggest natural remedies before more invasive surgeries, especially during pregnancy. And, luckily, there are many naturally-minded remedies but always, always get approval from your doctor or midwife before using any new product.
Follow a healthy diet
One of the easiest remedies for varicose veins is to take a peek at your diet and make a few simple changes:
- Limit sodium: Too much salt can damage your veins. (source) Instead, make sure you get plenty of potassium, (a large cup of coconut water, a banana, or a sweet potato with the skin) which keeps your veins healthy. While too much fluid retention (caused by too much salt) can put stress on your blood vessels, potassium works to prevent your vessels from thickening. It also helps ensure you don’t retain too much fluid. (source)
- Avoid caffeine: Pregnant mamas should be avoiding or at least restricting their caffeine intake anyway, but caffeine can contribute to varicose veins by increasing your blood pressure. (source)
- Avoid trans fats: Trans fats also increase blood pressure, upping your chances of developing varicose veins. Trans fats buildup in your veins can harden, causing a condition called atherosclerosis. When this happens, it’s really difficult for your blood to flow normally. (source)
- Eat anti-inflammatory foods: Keep veins from swelling by adding plenty of anti-inflammatory foods to your diet. Try spicing your foods with turmeric or ginger and eating foods like olive oil, salmon, leafy greens and berries.
- Eat anti-estrogenic foods: Research shows high levels of estrogen can cause varicose veins. (source) Fill your diet with a serving or two of sauerkraut, broccoli, or cruciferous veggies per day. How does a vegetable affect your hormones?! Cruciferous vegetables contain indole-3-carbinol, which has an anti-estrogenic properties.
Get enough magnesium
Magnesium is an important electrolyte that your body needs, and pooling blood may indicate the presence of a magnesium deficiency. Some women also find that varicose veins leave them with heavy and achy legs, and magnesium can help relieve that symptom by promoting healthy circulation and regulating blood pressure. (source)
Magnesium can be found in foods like leafy greens, avocado and nuts. You can also talk to your doctor about magnesium supplementation.
Get enough omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are an anti-inflammatory essential fatty acid that are vital for vein health—experts say people who eat these types of foods have low rates of heart disease.
Because exercise improves your circulatory system, it’s an important part of a treatment plan for varicose veins. (source) But there’s a catch! Jogging on hard pavement can actually put more stress on the veins in your legs.
Instead, try low impact exercises like:
Exercise also helps to boost your baby’s IQ so win-win!
Try compression stockings
Compression socks are one of the most popular treatments for varicose veins—they reduce pain and swelling, while preventing varicose veins from getting worse.
According to a 2018 study, individuals who wore ankle-length compression stocking at a strength of 18-21 mmHg saw improvements in just one week.
Compression stockings come in a range of heights (including ankle-height, calf-height, and thigh-height) and various pressures. While you can get compression socks online, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor to ensure you get the right length and strength.
Use apple cider vinegar
What can’t apple cider vinegar do? A study from the journal Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that topical applications (think: wet compress) of apple cider vinegar (ACV) were successful in reducing both the appearance of the veins as well as the “heavy” feelings. ACV is naturally high in potassium, which reduces fluid retention in the body and can help soothe the symptoms of varicose veins.
Here’s how to make your own compress:
- Fill a bowl with raw apple cider vinegar
- Soak a washcloth in the vinegar, then wring out.
- Apply the compress to affected areas for 20 minutes, repeating as necessary.
When you’re pregnant, it’s so important to increase your water intake—for many, many reasons. As your blood volume increases, your body needs more water to make that increase in blood. Aim for at least eight 8-ounce glasses, but you probably need closer to at least 10 glasses.
It’s important to use filtered water or spring water to avoid fluoride and other harmful contaminants. If you have a hard time getting through your daily water requirements, try adding lemon and/or cucumber slices for an added treat. Super refreshing!
Boost your potassium levels
Potassium helps your body release fluid retention by decreasing sodium levels and increasing urine output. (source) Be sure you’re getting enough of this electrolyte in your diet.
Add foods and beverages high in potassium to your diet, like coconut water, avocado, beets, bananas, and white beans. You can also try this morning sickness smoothie or this cucumber melon one, both high in potassium.
Try herbal remedies
Herbs that are known for promoting a health circulatory system can ease symptoms by working to improve circulation.
- Witch hazel: Apply this topically with a wet compress. If using it for a hemorrhoids, try a witch hazel pad.
- Butcher’s Broom: This herb has been taken since ancient times—the Romans and Greeks used it to boost circulation. However, do not take orally while pregnant.
- Cayenne Pepper: Just like the capsaicin-based rubs, cayenne pepper also contains capsaicin, which stimulates blood flow. Add a pinch of cayenne pepper to your daily ACV!
Because there are not enough studies to prove the safety of these herbs while pregnant, it’s best to avoid taking these herbal supplements orally while pregnant. Instead, try topical creams like:
Note: ALWAYS check with your midwife or doctor before taking anything during pregnancy.
What If Varicose Veins Don’t Go Away?
If you have your baby, but the veins just aren’t going away, there are plenty of treatment options ranging from conservative to invasive. (source) When you are trying to decide on a treatment, it’s important to know that there are four categories of treatment:
- Conservative: Conservative treatments do not involve surgeries or injections. For the most part, conservative treatments are treatments that can be done at home, like the natural remedies above.
- Minimally invasive: A minimally invasive treatment is usually done at the doctor’s office and requires a little bit of down time.
- Invasive: Surgery falls into this category.
- Hybrid: Think of this as the mix-and-match section. Hybrid treatments are combinations of any of the above types of treatments.
Many individuals may have great success with natural remedies, but sometimes severe cases require a more invasive approach, like when they cause:
- Open sores (ulcers)
- Persistent pain
- Blood clots or at a heightened risk of blood clots
When this is the case, your doctor may suggest surgery. Surgery for varicose veins is a last resort, though it is considered safe for most individuals. There are some exceptions, of course; for instance, you should avoid surgery while pregnant.
How to Prevent Varicose Veins
Some individuals are more prone to varicose veins because there is a hereditary component. (source) Women, especially pregnant women, are also more at risk for developing varicose veins.
If you’ve had varicose veins in past pregnancies, you’re probably anxious to prevent them in future pregnancies. Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent varicose veins with 100 percent certainty.
However, there are few things you can do to help reduce their severity during pregnancy (note: many of these preventive measures work for non-pregnant individuals, too):
- Avoid standing or sitting for long periods: If you must stand/sit for long periods, be sure to take frequent breaks.
- Avoid crossing your legs: This increases blood pressure in your veins. (source)
- Elevate your legs: Whenever possible, keep your legs above your heart to facilitate blood flow.
- Avoid excessive weight gain during pregnancy: Too much belly fat can cause your blood flow to slow down. (source)
- Avoid wearing tight clothes: Anything tight around your waist and legs can restrict blood flow and make varicose veins worse.
- Sleep on your left side: During pregnancy, sleeping on your left side puts less pressure on your vena cava, the large vein that carries blood from your heart to the lower part of your body.
Are Varicose Veins Dangerous?
Varicose veins may be an eyesore, but the bigger question is “Are they dangerous?”
- Most of the time, they’re superficial, which means they affect the veins closer to the surface of your skin. Usually superficial varicose veins do not pose a problem other than slight discomfort.
- They’re more problematic when they affect the veins deeper in your body, which puts you at risk for blood clots.
- Though deep vein thrombosis (DVT) is a separate condition, those with varicose veins are at a higher risk of DVT. (source) Talk to your healthcare provider if you experience cramping or soreness in your calf, red or discolored skin, your leg is warm to the touch, or you have a family history of DVT.
Please know that, in the vast majority of cases, they’re nothing to worry about. Still, it’s worth talking to your midwife or OB, so they can monitor your condition.
How About You?
Did you have varicose veins during pregnancy? What helped you? Did they go away after the birth of your baby?