Many women suffer from heavy, tired or swollen legs in pregnancy. The cause is the alterations in hormone balance that lead to the vessels becoming more distended. This is compounded by the increase in blood volume – by about 20 percent even in very early pregnancy.
Many pregnant women don’t realise that during pregnancy the veins have to work harder than before. This is due to the weight gain, the hormonal changes, the increased volume of blood in the body and the pressure of the baby on the pelvic area.
The weight gain also increases the pressure on the veins in the legs. The blood then flows more slowly back to the heart, particularly through the veins of the leg. Venous distension also leads to the situation in which the venous valves no longer close properly and the blood is then able to flow backwards. The blood pools in the veins, which makes itself noticeable as pins and needles, itching and pain in the legs. What's more, the pooled blood causes fluid to leak out into the surrounding tissues, which causes the legs to swell up, with the ankles becoming particularly swollen. As a result of this, varicose veins can form, which should be shown to and monitored by the midwife.
Around half of all women develop varicose veins in their first pregnancy and even more women are affected by this in the second pregnancy.
The risk of thrombosis also rises: the risk of pregnant women suffering a thrombosis is three to five times higher than in non-pregnant women. In fact, this risk even continues to increase still further up to six weeks after delivery of the baby – particularly after a Caesarean section or following serious blood loss.
You can support the work of the veins with physical exercise and sport such as antenatal exercises, walking, swimming and cycling, because the transport of blood back to the heart is mainly boosted by the action of the leg muscles, the so-called muscle pump. Cold water causes the vessels to contract and promotes better blood transport
Tips for everyday life
This added stress may even have consequences for women who have never shown any signs of venous insufficiency before. The legs swell up and so-called ‘varicose veins in pregnancy’ develop, which often, but not always, disappear again after the birth. A pregnancy is not infrequently the beginning of permanent venous disease, particularly in women with additional risk factors – e.g. hereditary lax connective tissue or overweight.
Compression hosiery is a sort of all-round talent in ensuring that your legs stay healthy and attractive. And, of course, you can still retain your own personal style thereby, as compression hosiery is namely indistinguishable from normal stockings and tights and is available in many colours and varieties.
Compression class 1 is sufficient at this stage. Compression class 2 can be used for existing vein problems or major accumulations of watery fluid. The stockings should be worn from the third month of pregnancy until two months after delivery or until the end of breast-feeding.
Whether it’s tights with an extra-comfortable panty section for the baby bump, hold-ups (thigh-length stockings) or knee socks: your doctor or midwife should be happy to advise you on finding the correct hosiery for your needs.
Furthermore, preventive measures against thrombosis are taken in hospital or in the obstetric clinic, if necessary. These consist of special compression garments, the thrombosis prophylaxis stockings, exercises and possibly also treatment with anticoagulation drugs.
If you are planning a home birth or an outpatient delivery, you should consult your doctor in good time about possible precautions.
The leg symptoms do not reoccur later in these mostly younger women. However, everybody who suffers from swollen legs should be examined by a doctor, in order to to find out whether a serious venous disease lies behind the symptoms.
In many pregnant women, the rapid weight gain leaves its mark. If the connective tissue is weak, stretch marks, so-called striae gravidarum, develop. These often appear on the legs as well as on the abdomen and the waist. Dry brush massages and plucking massages with special oils can help to prevent them. Wearing compression hosiery can also help to counteract pregnancy stretch marks.
Almost every pregnant woman experiences at least an occasional swelling of the ankles, feet or entire legs. Swollen legs can be a warning sign of beginning venous disorders. It is best to always ask your doctor about this. If necessary, he/she can prescribe medical compression hosiery.
In many pregnant women, varicose veins can develop. If these disappear again after delivery, they are called ‘varicose veins of pregnancy’. However, they do not always disappear.
Anyone who also has weak connective tissue or who is overweight could develop a venous disorder during pregnancy. Here too, compression hosiery helps to minimise the risk of such disease.
As a rule, pregnant women are at greater risk of thrombosis. This risk even increases further for a period of up to six weeks after the birth. Thrombosis occurs when a blood clot blocks the veins. This causes blood congestion and can lead to serious consequences.
By doing gymnastics, taking sufficient exercise and wearing compression hosiery, you can counteract the risk of thrombosis. Anyone particularly at risk can also take anticoagulant medicines. Also here, it is best to ask your doctor about this. He/she will advise you accordingly.