Dealing with a varicose vein pregnancy or worried about having varicose veins during pregnancy? Here’s everything you need to know about both regular and vulvar varicose veins in pregnancy: what they are, how to prevent them, how to ease the pain, and how to get rid of them for good.
I felt like the luckiest girl in the world. I was 38 weeks pregnant with my first daughter, and I didn’t have a single stretch mark on my huge belly.
I had heard all the stories from other moms about what wonderful things babies bring: joy, laughter, their sweet spirits, and of course, lots of stretch marks.
I feared that I was going to hate looking at my belly during pregnancy and despise all the stretch marks on it after giving birth. I worried that my husband wouldn’t find me as attractive after having a baby (silly, I know!) so I constantly slathered moisturizing cream across my stomach, silently praying that it would do the trick.
I thought to myself, if I can get through this whole pregnancy without a stretch mark, then maybe that means I’m just genetically predisposed to not get them! Maybe I will be one of those moms who struts around in a bikini after baby feeling like hot stuff.
Well, fast forward two weeks…
I had given birth to my daughter, and finally been allowed to go back home to rest and recover. My husband had taken some time off work, so we were enjoying our sweet baby girl and getting the hang of the whole “parenting” thing.
I stepped into the bathroom to take a shower and glanced over my much-changed body. No stretch marks, no stretch marks, no . . . WHAT THE HECK IS THAT????!!!
On the back of my behind and reaching all the way onto the top of my right thigh was a blue, bumpy, gnarled, enlarged, nasty-looking vein.
How could I not see this??? I thought to myself.
When did this get here? What is it?
After some hurried internet research, I figured out that my lovely new body-brand was a varicose vein.
I talked to my doctor about them at my six-week follow-up appointment and found out that they are super common in pregnant women.
He said I was lucky that it didn’t show up until after pregnancy, but that it might make any subsequent pregnancies more difficult for me.
Varicose Vein Pregnancy
Have no idea a varicose vein is? Don’t know what I’m talking about?
Wikipedia says this about what a varicose vein is:
“Varicose veins are veins that have become enlarged and twisted. The term commonly refers to the veins on the leg, although varicose veins can occur elsewhere.
Veins have pairs of leaflet valves to prevent blood from flowing backward (retrograde flow or venous reflux). Leg muscles pump the veins to return blood to the heart (the skeletal-muscle pump), against the effects of gravity.
When veins become varicose, the leaflets of the valves no longer meet properly, and the valves do not work (valvular incompetence). This allows blood to flow backward and they enlarge even more.”
I’m going to really delve into the varicose vein pregnancy topic here.
I’ll talk more about what they are, how I dealt with them for two pregnancies, and why I am SO glad I had surgery to get rid of them.
Common Places to Get Varicose Veins During Pregnancy
You can get varicose veins in several different areas.
As a pregnant woman, the most common places you’ll get them are in the vaginal/vulvar/labia areas and your legs.
Medical News Today had this to share about varicose veins during pregnancy on vulva:
“A vulvar varicosity is a varicose vein in or around the vulva. This type of vein tends to occur in women during pregnancy, and many women with vulvar varicosities also have varicose veins elsewhere . . .
Pregnancy is the most common cause of vulvar varicosities.
A 2017 study estimates that 18–22 percent of all pregnant women and 22–34 percent of women who have varicose veins near their pelvis develop vulvar varicosities. An estimated 4 percent of women have had vulvar varicosities.
They typically occur during pregnancy and usually go away on their own within 6 weeks after giving birth.”
(Here’s a link to that 2017 study on vulvar varicose vein pregnancy if you’re interested, but it does include graphic photos.)
I did not experience any symptoms of varicose veins until after my first pregnancy.
Varicose Veins During Pregnancy
When I became pregnant with my second child, the throbbing around my pelvic area became apparent almost right away, and the varicose vein on the back of my upper thigh began pulsing and aching after standing for long periods of time or lots of activity.
I began wearing black compression maternity pantyhose about halfway through my pregnancy to ease some of the pressure and would pair these with a maternity dress or long shirt so it would look like I was just wearing tights.
When I became pregnant with my third child, I immediately felt lots of pressure and aching and soreness around my pelvic area and around my varicose vein.
I had to wear maternity compression tights from when I was six weeks along, up until the end of my pregnancy.
In addition to the vein on my upper thigh, I developed another one on the back of my calf that caused me a lot of pain and discomfort.
Do Varicose Veins Go Away After Pregnancy?
You might be thinking, “Well, big deal, we all handle things like nausea, and fatigue, and contractions, and everything else during pregnancy, so why are you making it sound like varicose veins are so horrible?”
A lot of people assume that once your pregnancy is over, your varicose veins will just go away. After all, you don’t have the same intense pressure flowing to your pelvic area and you’re 40 lbs lighter than you were when you were pregnant.
I thought the same thing!
Unfortunately, in my case, they did not go away.
The symptoms lessened, and I was not in a lot of discomfort between my pregnancies, but once those varicose veins are created in/outside your body, they usually do not disappear.
Not to mention that every time I would get my period, I would feel a throbbing and pulsing pain in my leg, right around the area where my varicose vein was.
I would have to deal with it for 5-7 days until the blood flow decreased.
I couldn’t stand up for long lengths of time, and I had to prop my legs up to make the pressure less intense.
Later, I asked the surgeon who removed my varicose veins why I always felt so much pain during my period.
He told me that any time your body experiences significant hormonal changes, your veins are affected. Hormones are coursing through your bloodstream at the time of your period and also during pregnancy, so that made a lot of sense to me!
“Many women with varicose veins during pregnancy notice their gradual disappearance between six and twelve weeks after delivery, as the hormonal changes of pregnancy gradually resolve. Most disappear after the first pregnancy; however, some persist after the second. By the third pregnancy, up to 60 percent of moms will have varicose veins that do not resolve.”
So, you might be one of the lucky moms whose varicose veins went away, but I sure wasn’t!
How to Prevent Varicose Veins During Pregnancy
Varicose veins are usually hereditary, which I didn’t realize until I had them.
I had always thought the veins on my dad’s calves looked really bulgy and blue, but I just assumed it was because he worked out a lot.
Nope! They were varicose veins.
Turns out that even though my mom never experienced varicose veins during any of her pregnancies, my dad has had them for a long time. That means I am genetically predisposed to have varicose veins.
Now, my older sister has also been pregnant three times, but she has never had any varicose veins.
In the gene pool, you win some, you lose some.
Are there any varicose veins pregnancy prevention steps you can take?
The short answer is no.
Maybe if I had never gotten pregnant I could have avoided them, or it may have just prevented them in my 20s and 30s and they may have shown up later in my 40s.
During pregnancy, you can minimize your chances of getting them by exercising daily, not gaining tons of weight in addition to pregnancy weight, and elevating your feet and legs, but that won’t necessarily prevent them.
How to Relieve Varicose Veins During Pregnancy
Like I talked about before, most doctors recommend you exercise daily to keep the blood pumping through your legs to relieve some of the pressure.
For me, I was in so much pain that I never really felt like exercising, but I would try a 10-15 minute slow walk around the block as often as I could.
You can also buy and wear compression stockings or pantyhose/tights to help ease the aching and pain.
Some great places to buy compression stockings and maternity socks and sleeves for maternity are:
I liked them because they looked like normal tights and they weren’t too expensive at under $30.
The ones I bought were footless, because I live in Texas and there was no way I wanted to wear boots or tennis shoes during the summer. I bought mine from Figure 8 Maternity, but it looks like they are a lot more expensive on that website than they were almost 4 years ago.
I’ve seen compression tights/hose at places like Motherhood Maternity, Amazon, and in a lot of doctor’s offices and clinics.
The compression pantyhose my surgeon gave me were a lot like this:
They’re more pricey at $50, but they worked really well.
Pretty much any compression tights/pantyhose/stockings/thigh highs/socks you buy will work to help alleviate the pressure, so it’s up to you how much compression you want and what color you want, etc.
You can always ask your doctor if you want a recommendation for a certain brand.
A couple of other things that I did to help ease my varicose vein symptoms during pregnancy were:
- Elevated my legs and feet
- Put an ice pack on my upper thigh and let the cold numb it a little
- Tried not to stand up too much for long periods of time –(my sister and I were actually able to score great seats at a concert that was standing room only because I let them know about my condition, so it’s not ALL bad!)
- Never wore uncomfortable shoes. I don’t wear heels much anyway, but I tried to avoid any shoes that didn’t have a lot of cushion and that helped a lot.
Of course, you can also take the occasional Tylenol when you’re pregnant and spend a good part of your day resting, but it’s hard to do that when you have multiple kids!
It can also be helpful to get belly support bands to lift some of the pressure off your lower body and groin.
How to Get Rid of Varicose Veins After Pregnancy
You can’t wish them away.
No amount of exercise is going to make them disappear.
Sometimes, you’ve just got to get those varicose veins cut out.
My husband and I talked it over for a while, and I finally decided that after I was done nursing my third child and before I got pregnant with my fourth, I would go ahead and have the varicose vein surgery.
Because I was in so much pain during my third pregnancy, I wanted to avoid another painful experience and have the surgery prior to trying for another baby.
In January 2018, I made an appointment with a surgeon at Austin Vein and Vascular Clinic and had him look at my varicose veins. The surgeon I went to was highly recommended to me by a friend from church, and I’m so glad I went to him.
Before you go see someone about your veins, make sure they have a medical degree and years and years of experience performing varicose vein surgeries.
My surgeon completed a five-year residency in general and vascular surgery, a two-year residency in thoracic surgery, and a one-year fellowship in cardiovascular surgery. He has been in private practice for over 30 years.
When I went to him I was fully confident he knew what he was talking about.
My surgeon took an ultrasound of my legs so he could see all the inner-workings of my veins. He told me he was confident he could cut out the main varicose vein that was bothering me.
He assured me that once he cut it out, there was no chance of it coming back.
He also told me the vein in my calf could be removed, as I had been having a lot of trouble with that during my third pregnancy.
I went in for the surgery just a few weeks later. It took about 2 hours total.
He numbed my leg until I couldn’t feel what he was doing, and I was wide awake and lying on my stomach for the procedure.
Any time I would start to feel what he was doing, I would tell him, and he would inject more pain medication into that area. He was able to strip out my huge varicose vein and destroy other non-functioning veins on my right leg with heat generated from a laser device.
It sounds pretty scary, but I couldn’t feel most of it. At one point in the surgery, I had a slight buzzing in the ankle of my right leg, but it quickly went away.
When the surgery was complete, I rested for a few minutes and then the doctor’s medical assistant helped me put on a pair of compression pantyhose.
I had gauze bandages taped over the spots where the doctor had cut out the vein because there was some residual bleeding from surgery. Once I felt ready, I was able to drive myself home to rest and recover.
I couldn’t exercise strenuously for about a week after the procedure. My surgeon encouraged me to walk around as much as possible and not sit longer than 30 minutes.
I couldn’t fly on an airplane until about a month following the surgery.
I also couldn’t lift anything over 20 pounds, although I had to lift and carry my sweet baby boy from time to time.
I had to keep my incisions clean and dry after surgery. After two days I was allowed to shower, but couldn’t take a bath for about a week.
I had to wear the hardcore compression pantyhose for 24 hours after surgery, and couldn’t take them off even at night to sleep. This was super annoying, but all part of the recovery process.
After the first 24 hours, I was allowed to take them off at night but had to wear them all day every day for about 1-2 weeks.
After surgery, you may think that your leg will look a lot better, but there is a ton of bruising from the surgery, so it almost looks worse.
After a few weeks the bruising goes away, and then you can really see the results.
I can honestly say that I am so, so happy I made the decision to have my varicose vein surgery when I did. Not only does my leg look so much better, but I’m not in any pain anymore, even when I get my period.
I don’t feel the tingling, the aching, or the soreness anymore.
Pregnancy After Varicose Vein Surgery
Right now my husband and I are waiting a few months before we try for baby #4. But I am confident that my next pregnancy won’t be nearly as painful or frustrating because I will no longer have my huge varicose vein.
Now, that doesn’t mean that another vein or two won’t pop up when I become pregnant again, but I feel such relief knowing that the varicose vein that gave me such trouble will not come back. Ever again.
Whether or not you decide to have surgery for your veins is totally up to you, but I think it was totally worth it!