Pregnancy: Varicose veins and spider veins

Pregnancy: Varicose veins and spider veins
Some women develop varicose veins during pregnancy. What causes them and how can they be prevented?

What are varicose veins and spider veins?

Varicose veins are veins that have become enlarged. On the surface of the skin, they appear as bulging blue or purple lines. Spider veins are like varicose veins, but smaller. They often appear in clusters that resemble spider webs.

Varicose veins and spider veins are common during pregnancy, usually occurring in the legs, on the vulva, or in the rectal area. Varicose veins can cause chronic pain, as well as heaviness in the legs or throbbing in the affected area.

Causes of varicose veins during pregnancy

Varicose veins tend to be genetic, meaning they may be more likely to occur in certain people based on their family history.

During pregnancy, however, varicose veins are sometimes caused by hormonal changes. For example, some pregnancy hormones relax the walls of the blood vessels. The resulting increase in blood flow to certain parts of the body, such as the legs, promotes the development of varicose or spider veins.

In addition, the pressure exerted by the baby compresses the large veins in the pelvis, which can cause the leg veins to dilate. That pressure continues to increase throughout pregnancy.

Varicose veins can also appear on the vulva, in the vagina, and around the anus (hemorrhoids). Vulvar varicose veins usually develop from the second pregnancy onwards. They cause pelvic pain, a feeling of heaviness in the lower abdomen, and discomfort during sexual intercourse.

How to limit the appearance of varicose veins and spider veins

  • Exercise every day (swimming, yoga, walking, etc.).
  • Place your feet and legs in an elevated position for 15 to 30 minutes, three to four times a day.
  • Place your feet on a footrest when you’re sitting down and don’t cross your legs.
  • Avoid standing or sitting for too long. Move your feet and ankles by flexing (heel to toe) or rotating them.
  • Lie down on your left side and rest with a pillow under your belly or between your legs to reduce the pressure of your uterus on your inferior vena cava.
  • Avoid wearing tight clothing, such as slim-fit jeans or elastic knee or ankle socks.
  • Choose shoes with a heel no higher than 3 cm.
  • Lower the temperature of your baths and don’t stay in the water too long. Soaking in hot water for prolonged periods causes the veins to dilate and promotes the appearance of varicose veins. If you choose to go to the spa while pregnant, be sure to consult our fact sheet on the subject beforehand.
  • Drink plenty of water and add fibre to your diet to prevent hemorrhoids.

How to soothe your legs during pregnancy

Here are a few ways to alleviate the symptoms of varicose veins and prevent them from getting worse:

  • Apply cold water to your legs to relieve the feeling of heaviness and reduce swelling.
  • Regularly massage your legs upwards from your feet.
  • Ask your doctor, midwife, or specialized nurse practitioner (SNP) if you should wear compression stockings. Compression stockings improve blood circulation, which reduces the discomfort associated with varicose veins and spider veins and helps prevent more from forming, among other benefits.

Is it possible to treat varicose veins during pregnancy?

Varicose veins cannot be treated during pregnancy. Once you’ve given birth, it’s recommended to wait before attempting treatment, as varicose veins usually go away on their own after pregnancy.

When should you consult a professional?

Although varicose veins can cause discomfort, they pose little risk to your health and rarely lead to circulatory problems.

However, talk to your doctor if you notice a red, tender area on the surface of a varicose vein and you’re experiencing fever, leg pain, or a rapid pulse.

Things to keep in mind

  • Varicose veins and spider veins are common during pregnancy, especially in the legs.
  • Certain lifestyle habits can limit the appearance of varicose veins and spider veins. Wearing compression stockings can also help.
  • In most cases, varicose veins that develop during pregnancy go away on their own following childbirth, with no need for treatment.
Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Dr. Jean-Philippe Blais, family physician specializing in perinatal care
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: January 2024


Sources and references

Note: The links to other websites are not updated regularly, and some URLs may have changed since publication. If a link is no longer valid, use search engines to find the relevant information.

  • Doré, Nicole, and Danielle Le Hénaff. From Tiny Tot to Toddler: A practical guide for parents from pregnancy to age two. Quebec City, Institut national de santé publique du Québec.
  • Ladewig, Patricia, et al. Maternal & Child Nursing Care. 6th ed., London, Pearson, 2022, 1,448 pp.
  • Mayo Clinic. “Varicose veins.” 2024.
  • PasseportSanté. “Les varices.” 2022.