Varicose veins are caused by a combination of factors. Pregnancy hormones relax the muscular walls of the veins, while at the same time there is more blood for your circulation to pump around. This makes it more difficult for the muscle tissues and the valves in the veins to pump the blood back up to the heart, which means that some blood pools in the lower body. Another factor is the weight of your enlarging uterus that puts extra pressure on the veins of the legs and pelvic region.
Some women feel no discomfort, but others suffer a mild ache, or a heavy feeling in their legs, or even acute pain. A few women develop varicose veins in the vulva and vagina, which can be very painful.
Certain women - those who are expecting twins or multiples, or those for whom varicose veins run in the family - are more at risk.
You can avoid trouble by:
• Walking and swimming more, to pump the blood around;
• Doing specific exercises to prevent the blood pooling - frequent ankle flexions and rotations, at least 30 seconds at a time, with the feet elevated;
• Doing frequent pelvic floor exercises (see below);
• Never sitting with your knees crossed, or thighs pressing against the edge of a chair;
• Always resting with your legs raised;
• Trying not to stand for long periods of time;
• Eating foods rich in vitamin E and vitamin C, which promotes healing and strengthens blood vessels. Garlic is also good for the circulatory system.
If you are already suffering from varicose veins, the measures above can help, but also try wearing support tights and raising the foot of your bed to help the blood drain back to the heart. For maximum effect they should be worn right from the start of your pregnancy.