Varicose veins are swollen and enlarged veins. They are usually found in your legs and feet. They are often blue or purple and twisty in appearance.
During pregnancy you can also get varicose veins in your vulva. Your vulva is the part of your genitals on the outside. It includes the opening of your vagina, your labia and your clitoris.
Varicose veins can be uncomfortable but they are not dangerous for you or your baby.
It is a good idea to mention your varicose veins to your GP, midwife or obstetrician when you see them.
When to get medical help
You should contact your GP or midwife immediately if you have any of the following symptoms:
- a red, swollen, hot or tender calf - these could be signs of deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
- swollen legs and a headache, blurred vision or pain in your upper stomach - these could be signs of pre-eclampsia
If you have varicose veins you may notice:
- your legs, feet or ankles are swollen
- your legs ache or feel heavy
- dry and itchy skin over the veins
- leg cramps at night
What to do if you have varicose veins
- Rest as much as possible.
- Avoid standing for long periods.
- Sleep on your left side - this may take the pressure off your large veins and reduces the risk of stillbirth.
- Sit with your legs up.
- Avoid sitting with your legs crossed.
- Do some exercise which will help your circulation, such as walking and swimming.
- Wear comfy, loose clothes, particularly trousers, underwear and socks.
- Wear compression stockings which you can get from your pharmacist (put them on in the morning before your legs swell).
- Try to maintain a healthy weight as extra weight can put more pressure on your veins.
These foot exercises can help:
- bend and stretch your foot up and down 30 times
- rotate your foot 8 times one way and 8 times the other way
- repeat with your other foot
Why you may get varicose veins during pregnancy
Your risk of developing varicose veins increases when you're pregnant. There are a few reasons for this.
- When you're pregnant, your baby and placenta (afterbirth) need extra blood - the amount of blood in your body increases and can stretch your blood vessels.
- As your womb grows, it may put pressure on the veins in your legs.
- The hormonal changes of pregnancy can increase the risk of varicose veins.
Risk factors for developing varicose veins
If other members of your family have had varicose veins during pregnancy, you may be at higher risk.
If you have had varicose veins in the past they are likely to occur again when you become pregnant.
If your body mass index (BMI) is high, your risk of varicose veins is higher.
Standing or sitting
Standing or sitting for long periods of time can increase your risk of varicose veins.
Varicose veins after the birth
Most of the time, varicose veins go away on their own or reduce in size 3 or 4 months after the birth of your baby.
If your varicose veins don't go away after the birth, you can speak to your GP about treatment options.
If your varicose veins go away after the birth, they may come back the next time you become pregnant.