Before having kids, varicose veins never really crossed my mind. I knew what they were. I remembered that my mom had something done with a vein in her leg sometime during my teens. But my own legs were smooth, strong, and functional.
Fast forward to my first pregnancy, which was smooth sailing. Two years later, toward the end of my second pregnancy, I had a small crisscrossing of faint blue behind my left knee. But everything faded quickly after delivery. I didn’t give it a second thought.
That’s why the state of my left leg during my third pregnancy was downright horrifying. It started somewhere around the end of my second trimester. I felt a dull ache behind my left knee. I also noticed a little raised clot of spider veins to the front left side of the same knee.
And then it got much, much worse.
From my calf down, everything looked fine. But my left thigh was bumpy and rippled. It was crisscrossed with raised veins down the front and a network of vivid blue veins over the back. And it ached in a deep, awful way.
I was appalled. I quizzed everyone from my doctor, to my mother, to Google for causes and remedies for an answer to my panicked question — will they go away after the baby comes?
The causes of varicose veins
Online research quickly told me I wasn’t alone. It turns out that up to half of pregnant women will get varicose veins. And that makes sense.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, you’re experiencing the following during pregnancy:
- an increase in blood volume
- a decrease in the rate at which blood moves from legs up to the pelvis
- surging hormones
For women already at risk of varicose veins due to family history, these factors add up to swollen, purplish lumps. They are not only unsightly, but very uncomfortable. In my case, they were outright painful.
My doctor was pragmatic. Yes, they were a pain. And yes, they may still be an issue after my baby was born. We’d have to wait and see. When I told my doctor that I found temporary relief by working out every day, she gave me the OK to continue.
Treatments for varicose veins
Regular exercise is one of the popular treatments for pregnancy-related varicose veins. Other treatments include the following.
- Change position regularly. Stand up if you’ve been seated, sit down if you’ve been standing.
- Skip the high heels. Flats will engage your calf muscles, promoting better circulation.
- Don’t cross your legs when you’re seated. This can impede circulation.
- Make time to recline with your legs elevated to improve circulation.
- Cut back on the salt. It can cause swelling.
- Drink lots of water.
- Sleep on your left side to relieve pressure on the large vein that carries blood from the lower to upper part of your body.
- Wear compression stockings to help stimulate blood flow.
I followed all of these tips except the compression stockings. I found that weightlifting and doing squats, lunges, and dead lifts provided temporary relief. I did them daily to keep the ache away.
Varicose veins and subsequent pregnancies
After my third delivery, my legs improved dramatically. The bumps and lumps disappeared. I still noticed a dull ache at times behind my left knee, but it was tolerable. Still, I was very clear that subsequent pregnancies make varicose veins worse. I felt like I’d dodged a major bullet, and we decided that three kids was probably my body’s limit. My doctor agreed. My husband scheduled a vasectomy, I went on the pill, and while we waited for his appointment day to arrive, we managed to come up pregnant. Again.
During my fourth pregnancy, my veins were bad from the very beginning. This time, both legs were impacted, and the dull ache alternated between a throbbing pain and a sharp prickling sensation. Weightlifting and kickboxing helped, but not the way they had before.
I researched and ordered a pair of toe-less, thigh-high compression stockings. They looked as flattering as they sound. But they were amazingly effective. For my entire fourth pregnancy, I put them on first thing in the morning, before I even got out of bed. I wore them all day long, only switching into compression jogging pants for workouts. I took them off at night in bed. But if I did it before I brushed teeth and took out my contacts, my legs would start throbbing.
It wasn’t long before my growing baby made things worse. My left thigh was a disaster. This time, I had a mass of spider veins blooming on my left shin and creeping down around my ankle. The back of my right thigh and knee were also a mess. And to add insult to injury, I had a bulging vein in my vulva, too. That was a delight.
My growing baby compressed those all-important veins pumping blood out of my lower body, so the situation just got more and more dire. After my baby was born, I noticed immediate relief in my right leg and lady parts. But for me, four pregnancies were just too much. My body wasn’t able to bounce completely back.
The veins in my right left disappeared, and those in my left leg faded and got smaller. But today, I still have a noticeable vein on my left thigh that runs to the outside of my knee. It has a minor ripple that gets worse when I’ve been on my feet for a while.
The spider veins on my shin faded, but I still have what looks like a faded bruise there. Unfortunately, with the return of my cycle came that familiar throbbing and prickling pain in my left thigh and shin, plus a sense of fatigue on that entire side.
Should you have surgery to get rid of varicose veins?
When my baby was 20 months old, I decided my body had healed itself as much as it could. I needed a bit of outside help. A visit to a vascular surgeon confirmed a varicose vein in my left leg. I’m scheduled for radiofrequency ablation next week.
What does that mean? After a local anesthetic, a catheter is inserted in the vein, and radio frequency energy is used to heat the internal wall. The heat causes enough damage to the vein to close it off, and then the body will eventually absorb it. It’s a minimally invasive outpatient procedure with a really great track record and fast recovery time. With four kids to take care of, that’s exactly what I need.
The ablation will take care of my varicose vein, and my doctor predicts I’ll see improvement in my spider vein mass, too. If there’s anything left there, I’ll have another procedure to clear it up. Unfortunately, even though it aches, spider veins fall into the category of cosmetic surgery. I’ll be paying for that procedure out of pocket. But at 35, I’m not done with the shorts-wearing portion of my life. I’m willing to spend the money.
My doctor told me to expect some bruising after my procedure, and that I’ll need to wear compression stockings. But after what I’ve gone through with my third and fourth pregnancies, plus the aching, throbbing, and prickling that’s a normal experience for me these days, I’m more than willing to put up with a few weeks of bruising and discomfort to get back to strong, healthy legs.