Fifty-five percent of all women in the U.S. will develop varicose veins at some point during their lives, according to the American College of Phlebology. The risk of varicose veins is increased during pregnancy but there are ways to minimize them during pregnancy and beyond. For best results, begin preventive measures early in pregnancy, even before any hint of varicose vein development is noticed.

  • Take frequent breaks. Long periods of uninterrupted sitting is as bad as long periods of standing.
  • Raise the legs whenever possible while sitting, resting, and even while sleeping.
  • When possible, raise the legs so knees and ankles are higher than the heart.
  • Exercise often to keep the blood flowing and the muscles toned for optimum vein strength. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise during most days of pregnancy. For life-long protection against varicose veins and other cardiovascular disorders, continue this exercise regimen after pregnancy, too.
  • Lose weight before getting pregnant, if possible. Excess weight increases blood pressure in the veins.
  • Maintain a healthy weight during pregnancy.
  • Dress comfortably. Avoid tight clothing that constricts anything below the waist -- abdomen, groin, upper thighs, and legs.
  • Choose flats or low-heeled shoes to increase muscle power in the calves. Save the high heels for later.
  • Ask your obstetrician about compression stockings. These specially designed stockings create enough gentle pressure in the legs to keep the blood from pooling and also reduce swelling of the feet and ankles. Your doctor will know which style is safest for you.
  • Sleep on your left side, if possible. This position will assist oxygen-depleted blood returning from the extremities to flow effortlessly through the heart and become fully oxygenated before circulating again.
  • Avoid constipation. Drink lots of water throughout the day; forget the salt shaker and salty foods; and eat plenty of fiber-rich fruits, veggies, and whole grains to minimize the risk or severity of varicose veins and hemorrhoids. If constipation persists, ask your obstetrician about stool softeners.

Varicose veins cannot be reversed without surgical intervention so they’re best prevented or minimized once they’ve developed. Varicose veins can become painful and unsightly if measures aren’t made to reduce them. In the worst case scenario, they can become ulcerated and at risk of infection. Blood clots, which sometimes cause strokes, can develop in varicose veins and travel to the head, heart, or lungs, where they can become life-threatening.

Source: “How Can Varicose Veins Be Prevented?” NIH National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. National Institutes of Health/ Department of Health and Human Services. Feb. 1, 2011. Web. Feb. 20, 2014.