When the earliest days of my third trimester rolled around, I started to experience intense pain somewhere new— my vulva.
Now, let’s be clear: this is my fourth pregnancy, so I’m not unfamiliar with the discomfort and soreness that can come with growing a child. What I was experiencing, however, was a whole new thing. Through a little research and a visit with my doctor, I would later learn I was dealing with vulvar varicose veins.
Vulvar varicose veins aren’t only experienced by pregnant individuals. Anyone with a vulva may experience them, but they are much more common during pregnancy. This condition is caused by the extra blood flow that takes place during pregnancy, thanks to the increased volume of plasma in the blood. All of this extra blood can start pooling places you’d rather it didn’t, including your lower extremities and your vulva. This can cause swelling, bulging, and even twisting of the veins in that part of the body.
Not everyone who has vulvar varicosities will be in pain. They may notice swelling but could be completely free of discomfort. Some individuals, however, will have daily pain. For me, the aching and soreness felt like it was on the surface of my skin and was much different from the pelvic pain and pressure of previous pregnancies.
After sitting for work for too long or staying on my feet for an extended period of time, things got worse. By the end of the day, I was often in enough pain to need to call in reinforcements. My partner would take over when he got off work and my mom would drop by to prep dinner. Having never heard of vulvar varicosities until this pregnancy, I was taken off guard by how debilitating they were for me. With three months left in my pregnancy, I knew I needed answers for managing my pain.
Talking to My Doctor About Varicose Veins
After doing some of my own research, it was obvious that what was going on was in fact varicose veins. I read that a lot of women never report their pain because the location makes it more difficult to talk about. I get that—I’ve had a really hard time explaining to people close to me exactly why my pregnancy has become so difficult for the same reason. It feels so intimate! The being said, I have a relationship with my doctor (she delivered my second child) and I knew that talking to her was the best way to get some ideas for moving forward.
The conversation was helpful but it was also discouraging. She confirmed what I read online, that vulvar varicosities don’t resolve until after delivery. She encouraged me to focus on managing the pain instead of fixing the issue. It was disappointing to hear but at least I knew how to move forward and had realistic expectations.
Managing the Pain of Vulvar Varicosities
My doctor offered a few ideas for dealing with the symptoms of my vulvar varicose veins. She suggested I take breaks often throughout the day, use ice packs to reduce swelling and pain, elevate my feet when I can, and turn to Tylenol when I absolutely need it.
Following her advice was helpful, but only helped me manage on a day-to-day basis. It didn’t do anything to improve things for the long term. Following her advice would help me get through the day. But when the next day rolled around, I would be in tears just trying to get out of bed in the morning.
Finding Extra Support for Vulvar Varicose Veins
After a couple weeks of worsening symptoms, I knew that I was going to need to do more. At the time, I still had three months of pregnancy ahead of me. Like so many moms right now, I have a lot to take care of each day. I have three kids at home and I’m homeschooling two of them while working from home full-time. The prospect of daily pain that prevented me from carrying out the basics on my to-do list was enough to trigger a massive amount of anxiety.
At my doctor’s suggestion, I started looking at vulvar varicose vein support garments. I found one specifically made for varicose veins on the vulva. It’s the V-Sling by Belly Bandit and yes, it is just as sexy as it sounds. This maternity support garment might not be my favorite thing to strap on at the start of the day, but it is giving me the support I need.
Here’s how the V-Sling works: A large belt velcros snuggly around the bottom of my bump. Then, two longer and thinner straps velcro onto the front and crisscross between my legs before attaching to the back. I can adjust it as needed, to increase or decrease support based on my comfort level.
Belly Bandit sells two sizes of support garments. The small/medium is made for women who are typically size 0 to 8 before pregnancy and the large/extra-large is made for women who wear anything from a 10 to an 18 while they’re not pregnant. I’m a size 10-12, so I went with the larger size. I feel like I’m just barely able to secure it snuggly enough. So, if you’re pregnant and sitting right on the line between the two sizes, sizing down might not be a bad idea.
The belt is pretty bulky, but it obviously isn’t meant to be a glamorous garment. This means I mostly wear it at home under joggers or a dress. That’s not really a big deal since I am home literally all of the time these days. If I needed to work outside the home, I might need to find looser bottoms to make it work on a daily basis.
Would I Recommend the V-Sling by Belly Bandit?
Now to answer the most important question: does the V Sling work for vulvar varicosities? The answer all depends on what you’re expecting. I knew when I bought this support belt that I wasn’t going to gain complete relief. I just wanted to feel improved enough to keep up with my life.
So, yes, it really does help. I pair it with taking breaks throughout the day and using ice packs as needed. These three things together are helping me to manage my pain and I am seeing a steady improvement over time. While I don’t expect to be pain-free anytime soon, it has been nearly two weeks since I had a really hard day and had to call my mom for help.
As a pain management option for vulvar varicose veins, I recommend the V-Sling. Don’t rely on this support garment on its own, but talk with your doctor and make it part of a holistic plan to take care of yourself until you give birth.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is there a certain product you recommend to treat vulvar varicose veins?
I recommend the V-Sling by Belly Bandit paired with ice packs and a lot of rest. Your pain might not disappear, but it could improve with consistent rest and support.
Does eating certain foods during pregnancy cause varicose veins?
I didn’t find any research that diet causes varicose veins. However, eating a healthy, low-sodium diet is recommended by The Mayo Clinic as one of many small ways you can improve your symptoms.
Do vulvar varicose veins ever go away?
Thank goodness the answer is yes! Vulvar varicose veins typically go away within six weeks of giving birth. If you are still in pain at your 6-week follow-up appointment, be sure to bring it up with your doctor.
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Reviewed by Chaunie Brusie, RN, BSN…