Pregnancy is often depicted as a beautiful time—and it is. But it also has its challenges. Actress Alexa PenaVega got candid in a recent Instagram post, showing that she's experienced those "two sides of pregnancy."
"One side is beautiful and awesome and exciting. The other side has been painful, exhausting and rough," the 32-year-old captioned her post. "That's the crazy beautiful thing about bringing a life into this world. It isn't always smooth sailing but boy is that blessing in the end worth every vein that's decided to pop up, all the sciatic nerve pain, all the morning sickness."
In the first picture she shared, PenaVega—who is expecting her third child with her husband, former Big Time Rush band member Carlos—is smiling, proudly showing her baby bump. The next two photos give a glimpse into that "rougher" side of her pregnancy, with the former Spy Kids star revealing that she has developed what appears to be varicose veins in one of her legs.
"Thank you for sharing the realities of pregnancy! I also had [brutal] varicose veins and was so self-conscious, so seeing and sharing images like this is so important! #normalizerealbodies," one person commented. "Oh my goodness! I didn't realize how intense they could get! You look amazing though! 🤍 your body is doing the most beautiful job right now 😊," someone else wrote. "Thank you for sharing this! It's so nice to normalize the not fabulous parts of pregnancy ❤️," another person said.
As the comments showed, PenaVega is not alone in experiencing varicose veins during pregnancy. In fact, Kisti Fuller, MD, a faculty member in the Maternal-Fetal Fellowship Program with the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix, tells Health that they're common, with varicose veins affecting up to 40% of women during pregnancy. Here's what they are, why they develop, and how to treat them.
What are varicose veins, and why can they happen during pregnancy?
The US National Library of Medicine describes varicose veins as "swollen, twisted veins" that are visible under the skin. "Your veins have one-way valves that help keep blood flowing toward your heart," according to the Library. "If the valves are weak or damaged, blood can back up and pool in your veins. This causes the veins to swell, which can lead to varicose veins."
They tend to be hereditary, Dr. Fuller says. Having obesity, living an inactive lifestyle, standing for prolonged periods of time, and smoking are other risk factors. But varicose veins are also more common pregnant women because of the increased venous pressure, increased blood flow, pressure from the gravid (pregnant) uterus, and hormonal changes experienced during that time, Dr. Fuller explains.
The veins can be blue, red, or skin-colored, according to the US Department of Health & Human Services's Office of Women's Health (OWH), which also reports that "the larger veins may appear ropelike and make the skin bulge out." The veins also usually develop in the lower legs, "because the veins in your legs carry blood to your heart against gravity and for the longest distance of anywhere in the body," per the OWH. Dr. Fuller points out that they can also develop in the vulvar (genital) and rectal area.
Some women don't have any symptoms from varicose veins, making them more of a cosmetic issue. But for other women, the veins can be "quite bothersome," Dr. Fuller says, with symptoms including pain, itching, throbbing, aching, swelling, and skin discoloration.
Generally, though, varicose veins don't cause significant negative health effects, she says. But rare complications could include blood clot and ulcerations.
What can you do about varicose veins while pregnant?
According to Dr. Fuller, the veins can develop at any time during pregnancy. However, they most commonly show toward the end, when the uterus, or womb, is large. "They are stable or worsen throughout the pregnancy and significantly improve or resolve by 6-12 weeks after delivery," Dr. Fuller says.
Women who have multiple pregnancies may have increasingly worse varicose veins with each subsequent pregnancy, according to Dr. Fuller.
Because most women who get varicose veins during pregnancy see significant improvement after delivery, Dr. Fuller says that noninvasive therapy is preferred. "Compression hose, avoiding excess weight gain, staying hydrated, exercise, leg elevation, avoiding prolonged standing, [lying on the] left side are all non-invasive methods to help with [varicose vein] pain during pregnancy," she explains. "If varicose veins persist after delivery and are bothersome, treatment with injections, laser, or surgery is available."
It looks like PenaVega might be using a compression hose (aka compression stockings) for some relief, sharing this pic of her wearing one a few weeks back:
Whatever discomfort she might be feeling, though, is well worth the baby girl that's on the way, PenaVega says.
"Honestly, you kinda just forget about it all because the GOOD really does outweigh the bad," she wrote in the caption of her more recent post. "I'm just gonna say God made us warrior mamas! And we are rad… even if we do wear Fanny packs and belly bands. 🤣"
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