Some women develop varicose veins during pregnancy. What causes them and how can they be prevented?
Varicose veins are dilated veins that can cause constant pain and a feeling of heaviness or throbbing in the affected area. When the dilated veins are thread-like and less widespread, they’re known as spider veins.
During pregnancy, the appearance of varicose or spider veins is common, especially on the legs, on the vulva, or in the rectal area.
Causes of varicose veins during pregnancy
Varicose veins tend to be linked to heredity, meaning they can occur more frequently in certain families. During pregnancy, however, they’re sometimes caused by hormonal changes. For example, some pregnancy hormones relax the walls of blood vessels. The resulting increase in blood flow to certain parts of the body promotes the development of varicose veins or spider veins. In addition, the pressure exerted by the baby in the pelvis can cause the leg veins to dilate.
Varicose veins can also appear on the vulva and around the anus (hemorrhoids). Vulvar varicose veins usually develop from the second pregnancy onwards and 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.
- When resting, lie on your left side 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 promotes the dilation of veins and 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
There are a number of 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 or midwife 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 may cause discomfort, but they pose little risk to your health and rarely lead to circulatory problems. However, speak to your doctor if you notice a red, tender area on the surface of a varicose vein, accompanied by fever, leg pain, or a rapid pulse.
It is not possible to treat varicose veins during pregnancy. It’s recommended to wait six months after delivery before seeking treatment. In most cases, they go away on their own within that time.
Scientific review: Dr. Jean-Philippe Blais, family physician at a perinatal clinic
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: September 2019
Ladewig, Patricia, et al. Maternal & Child Nursing Care. 3rd ed., Upper Saddle River, Prentice Hall, 2011.