I see a lot of posts asking about varicose veins, particularly in the vulva, during pregnancy. Unfortunately this is something I know A LOT about.
When I was pregnant with my first baby, around half way through the pregnancy I started to feel a bit... Heavy... Down there. I noticed that as I got bigger, one side of my vulva would get quite sore and swollen if I was on my feet for a long time. I saw a few healthcare professionals about it and was told it was round ligament pain or pubis symphasis dysfunction, and I was given belly bands and better sleeping positions to help. They didn't help, and I knew they wouldn't because I knew it wasn't either of those diagnoses. After I gave birth the discomfort disappeared and I didn't think of it again.
Until my second pregnancy.
This time the pain was much worse, and from much earlier. By half way through the pregnancy I couldn't even stand for long enough to wash the dishes without being in excruciating pain, and it was very depressing. I dove into research; there had to be an answer out there. There was no way I was the only one who had experienced this. The pain was very localised and worse when I was standing, got worse the longer I stood, and was only present during pregnancy but worsened as I got bigger. The only relief was lying down, submersion in water, or pressing on the painful area.
I didn't want to have to press on my vulva every time I was standing up!
I noticed I had bad varicose veins starting to pop up all down my left leg as well and so the research continued. Eventually I came across a description of pelvic congestion syndrome (PCS) and a it was like someone had turned the lights on. That was it! I figured it out! PCS is basically varicose veins all through the pelvis, and sufferers often have varicose veins in the leg as well. It only occurred during pregnancy because of the extra blood volume and pressure from the baby on my pelvic area. Varicose veins are believed to be a genetic condition and other members of my family have them so that seemed to link together as well. It was such a relief to finally have an answer, and then to have it confirmed by a specialist but I still didn't have a solution to the crippling pain. I was told there was nothing I could do until after pregnancy.
More research. More appointments.
Finally I stumbled upon an advertisement for a compression garment that was absolutely hideous but looked like it might help so I ordered it, along with some maternity compression stockings.
Let me tell you, they were absolutely life-changing.
I will never forget the first time I put on the v2 supporter and stood up to do the dishes... NO PAIN! I couldn't believe it. By about 15-20 minutes I was starting to feel that dull ache again, but nowhere as bad as it had been, and I had just been standing for 20 minutes! The Jomi Maternity Compression Stockings (20-30mmHg) were very helpful as well, moreso for the leg veins, but they also put extra pressure on the vulva which provided extra relief. My research also showed that compression of both the leg and vulva would help reduce the severity of the varicosities too, which I was keen for.
So every morning I had my routine of putting on my "sumo undies" as I called them, and then my compression stockings. It wasn't a fun process at all but I knew that it would make my day bearable.
I wore these two garments through my third and fourth pregnancies as well, and while the severity of my condition worsened with each pregnancy, I was able to function. I can't even imagine how bad it would have been without them. I remember a few times I didn't wear them when I knew I would be sitting down a lot, and the feeling was awful; I felt like my veins were going to burst.
Apart from wearing these things, other things I found to be helpful were getting in water - I switched all my exercise over to swimming as well as floor pilates because these were the only ways I could exercise without pain, and I also birthed in the water all four times. It helped to not have to think about my veins in labour. Also, applying a topical Witch Hazel cream can be helpful as it strengthens the walls of the veins. I made sure to sit down and lie down as much as I possibly could, and outsourced as much as I could - hired a cleaner, used the clothes dryer, made very simple meals or asked family to cool for me, and I only took the kids out to places where I could go and sit, not places where I would have to walk around. It definitely wasn't a fun time and it did a number on my mental health each time, but I survived and it was a 1000% worth it for the beautiful babies that came of it.
To the mum going through this - I'm so sorry. It's so unfair and I get it. I truly do. It's okay to feel sad that you can't enjoy your pregnancy properly. It's okay to ask for help. It's okay to lie on the couch all day. Please talk about how you're feeling.
To the partner of the mum who is going through this - she needs you. She is in so. Much. Pain. She needs you to step up and help her as much as you possibly can, and listen to her feelings. I know it's hard for you to see her in pain, but at least you can help her.
After you are done having babies, there are surgical options if you want to have your veins treated, either because you may still be in pain or for cosmetic reasons. Your options include sclerotherapy, ablation, embolisation and traditional vein stripping. All of these require anaesthetic of some kind and none of them are fun at all - I know, I've had all of them done - but they help improve your quality of life and may be worth it for you. Discuss with your local specialist which option is best for you.
I hope that reading this gives you some hope that you will be able to function. There are things you can do, and people who understand what you're going through...