Oh, your aching legs. Half of all pregnant women develop varicose veins in their legs. These swollen, blue, ropelike veins aren't solely due to weight gain. They are evidence that your circulatory system is struggling to move 40 percent more blood through veins and arteries all over your body. Sometimes this extra blood increases the pressure on vein walls to the point where veins stretch and their valves don't close properly. Blood can ooze through those leaky valves and pool in your veins; this is what makes them become varicose -- stretched out of shape and sometimes even twisted.
Extra risk factors for varicose veins include having a job that requires long periods of sitting or standing, having thin-walled veins or an injury, and gaining too much weight. Usually varicose veins will return to normal after your baby is born, but they can still be uncomfortable. Women who have them in their legs complain of heaviness, additional fatigue, pressure, and aching. Varicose veins can be permanent and tend to worsen with each pregnancy, so it's worth trying to prevent them or to ease the discomfort they cause.
Here are some tips for keeping your legs healthy during your pregnancy:
- When you rest, keep your legs elevated higher than your heart. That will help the blood return to the heart instead of pooling in your legs.
- When you sit down, avoid crossing your legs, because that reduces blood circulation.
- Avoid standing or sitting for long periods of time.
- Follow an exercise plan to improve your circulation. Walking half an hour every day can help a lot.
- If you can't exercise, sit in a rocking chair several times a day and use your legs to gently rock back and forth, encouraging blood flow.
- Invest in support stockings. Put them on before you get out of bed so blood doesn't have a chance to pool in your ankles. Sheer maternity pantyhose offer gradient compression, which means that the pressure of the stockings is greatest at the ankle and decreases higher up on the leg. These stockings will help support your legs and squeeze the blood upward from your legs back toward your heart.
Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.
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