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Varicose Veins
Varicose veins are veins that increase in prominence during pregnancy. Veins are the blood vessels that carry blood back to your heart. They work against gravity, enlisting a series of valves to prevent backflow of blood. When you are pregnant, the volume of blood in your body increases, your hormones act to relax your blood vessels, and the weight of your uterus compresses large veins in your pelvis, putting more pressure on your lower circulation. Veins of your lower body undergo more strain, and become more prominent and enlarge, which can cause your legs to feel achy and tired.

The most effective way to minimize your symptoms is to lie down and elevate your legs higher than the level of your heart. You can also lie on your left side, which is the best position for sleeping. This moves your uterus off of the inferior vena cava vein below your heart, improving circulation in your lower body. Unfortunately, the improvement is only temporary; being upright again will allow blood to pool in the veins again. So there really is not a recommended amount of time to elevate the legs.

Exercising strengthens the muscles of your legs, providing support to the veins of your lower legs. Wearing support hose can be helpful, too. Ask your doctor about special maternity support hose that can be ordered with a prescription; they work best if you put them on before getting out of bed in the morning. Also, don't wear restrictive clothing that impairs your circulation, or stockings with elastic tops.

Avoid activities that increase pressure to your lower legs, such as prolonged standing, heavy lifting or crossing your legs when you sit. Wear comfortable and supportive shoes. When you do need to stand or sit for long periods, move your feet and lower legs regularly to exercise your muscles. If you are traveling in a car, make sure to stop frequently to walk around. If you need to travel by plane, choose an aisle seat and try to get up and move around every hour or two. Eat a healthy diet rich in vitamin C and avoid excessive weight gain.

While you cannot reverse the process of varicose veins while you are pregnant, the above recommendations may help to ease your discomfort. Thankfully, varicose veins are likely to diminish after the pregnancy has ended.
Laura E. Stachel M.D. Obstetrician & Gynecologist