Dealing with the uncomfortable truth of varicose veins 'down there'

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 Photo: Getty Images

We all know about varicose veins, but did you know you can get them on your lady parts?

Yes, that's right. As if having them on our legs is not uncomfortable and unsightly enough, we can suffer them to our most sensitive body part.

While talking about swollen, bulging veins down there may be uncomfortable, I can guarantee that it is not as uncomfortable as suffering from them. It is important to know that this may happen, as you don't want to pass it off as just another one of those "strange pregnancy things" you have to put up with. We all know our body can do some weird things when pregnant, and this is just one of them.

So what are they?

If you don't know what varicose veins are, they are the puffy bulgy veins you can see under the skin's surface, most commonly on the legs. They are caused by blood pooling in the veins.

Unfortunately you can also develop varicose veins on your vulva – known as vulvar varicosities. This is what can cause that swollen and heavy feeling in your vagina and pelvis. In women they most commonly occur when we are in our third trimester, however we do not have to be pregnant to develop them.

Oh, and haemorrhoids are also varicose veins of the rectum ... another common infliction when pregnant.

Why do we get them when pregnant?

When we are pregnant we have higher levels of progesterone circulating in our blood. Progesterone increases the blood supply to your vaginal and pelvic area, as well as weakening the walls of the veins. During our third trimester (or earlier) the pressure of your developing baby can impede blood flow so you have pooling of the blood in these weakened veins. The end result is congestion, causing swelling, pain and varicose veins.

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If you have a family history of varicose veins, had them prior to pregnancy, are overweight, stand for long periods of time, are an older mum or have been pregnant before, you are at an increased risk of developing them.

What are the symptoms?

The good news is vulvar varicosities do not impact your ability to have a vaginal birth. The bad news is they can be mighty uncomfortable.

Some women are lucky, and unless they have a close look at their lady parts with a mirror, they may not even know they have them. For others, it may feel like you are swollen and have a lot of pressure in your pelvis and vagina. They can also be painful, making it hard to sit or stand for long periods of time.

What can you do about them?

For the most part, they will go away once you give birth. Of course, that doesn't help you in the here and now.

You can try wearing compression underwear, which can be expensive - and while this doesn't treat the vulvar varicosities, it can help alleviate the symptoms.

A few other simple tricks to aid in making you more comfortable is to elevate your hips when lying down, avoid standing or sitting for long periods of time, sleep on your left side and don't lift heavy objects. You should also try avoiding constipation, which I know you hear over and over again!

When we are pregnant (and breastfeeding) there is a long list of medications we should not take. There has been no medications or topical ointments recommended for vulvar varicosities or that have been proven safe when pregnant. You can try natural therapies like ice packs or cold compresses or even a warm sitz bath.

It is always important to check with your doctor or midwife before trying something new to make sure it's safe to do when pregnant.