This topic came up in class today…..something not everyone is talking about but many women are experiencing—varicosities in pregnancy. What the heck is that?
When you’re pregnant, you have more circulating blood in your body. This is a protective factor for you and for baby. You also have more of the hormone progesterone flowing. Progesterone relaxes your blood vessel walls. The valves that control blood flow can weaken-which can cause areas of blood to pool in your veins. This makes the walls of that vein stretch and sag and can appear blue and lumpy when looking at the skin. These veins occur most commonly in the legs, but they can be found in lots of other places in the body. This includes in and around the vagina: vulvar varicose veins and around your pelvis as your uterus continues to grow.
You may be more likely to get varicose veins if you:
- Have family members that suffer from them.
- Are female. Good ole hormones make us pre-disposed to them
- You’re overweight
- You have a job where you’re on your feet a lot or sitting on your bottom a lot.
Which leads me to another kind of varicosity……hemorrhoids. These, too, are super common in pregnancy. What are some symptoms of varicose veins (anywhere)?
- aching, heaviness and discomfort
- muscle cramps, especially overnight
- burning or throbbing in your legs
- swollen feet and ankles…..although this can mean other things too
- tender, painful vulva if you have vulvar varicosities
Fortunately, other than being super uncomfortable-varicosities are not a complication for vaginal labor and delivery and do not require a cesarean section. It might be a good idea to let your care provider know that you have vaginal varicosities so they can help you deliver more slowly and with control to help prevent bleeding of the veins.
No matter where you have varicosities you can do some simple things to help ease your discomfort.
- If you don’t already have a postpartum doula-hire one. She can help you identify ways to care for yourself after delivery and help you get rest so that you can reduce swelling and recover. If your doula is also an herbalist (like me) she can direct you toward herbs and tinctures which can help you recover, as well
- Avoid sitting with your legs crossed-this cuts off blood flow
- Avoid standing or sitting for long periods of time
- Put your feet up. I mean….you should be doing this anyway—you’re pregnant!
- Keep active. Things like walking and swimming are essential for blood flow
- Avoid putting on excessive amounts of weight. This starts with eating well and having a balanced diet throughout pregnancy. If you’re eating the way you should be, you will gain just the right amount of weight for you and your baby. As I say to my students and my children…..eat your colors!
- Try compression socks. This can help ease symptoms. Check with your midwife or OB/GYN to make sure they are ok with this idea too
- Short term use of pelvic elevation and ice packs can really help with inflammation, especially if your varicosity is in your pelvic region.
- Abdominal support can also help swollen legs. This means potentially using a belly band-so check with your care provider to make sure this is ok for you
- Finally, if you can find a professional herbalist (like me) she can walk you through the use of some herbs that help varicosities and are safe in pregnancy. This is outside the scope of practice for a doula….but your herbalist should be well acquainted with herbs for pregnancy.