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Compression Socks: Benefits During Pregnancy?

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 02, 2021

Pregnancy is an exciting and challenging time. Your body is constantly changing, and the extra weight you're carrying around can lead to some sensations you're not used to, including backaches and pain in your legs and feet. Fortunately, there's a simple way to alleviate some of that pain: pull on a pair of compression socks

Also called compression stockings, these socks gently hug the legs and provide support for tired, swollen limbs.

What Are Compression Socks?

Compression socks are therapeutic stockings that squeeze the legs and ankles, helping your blood vessels work more efficiently. They improve circulation by allowing the muscles and arteries in your lower limbs to relax, and encouraging the blood to flow back to your heart. 

Compression socks are available in different lengths and provide different levels of pressure. Stockings that sit below the knee can reduce swelling in the calves, ankles, and feet. Thigh-high compression stockings prevent blood from collecting, or pooling, in your veins. 

There are two main types of compression socks: anti-embolism stockings and graduated socks. 

Anti-embolism stockings. These socks help maintain circulation and prevent blood clots. They're typically used for patients who are confined to bed after surgery. 

Graduated compression socks. Most people, including pregnant women, wear graduated compression socks with different levels of tightness. These socks are the tightest around your ankle and will fit looser up towards your knees or thighs. If you're not sure what level of pressure works for you, talk to your doctor. 

Alleviating Pregnancy Discomfort With Compression Socks

During pregnancy, women can experience a number of discomforts due to fluctuating hormones, weight gain, and other major changes in the body. 

When a woman is pregnant, the body releases a hormone called relaxin that loosens the ligaments. This helps prepare you for childbirth, but can also cause other problems, like body aches and pain. It also makes you more susceptible to injuries. Leg cramps are common in the third trimester of pregnancy. Stretching can help, but may not be enough. 

Benefits of Wearing Compression Socks During Pregnancy

Wearing compression socks can alleviate pregnancy discomfort. Benefits include: 

Reduced Swelling. When you're pregnant, your body produces 50% more body fluid. This can lead to excess swelling. Compression socks provide gentle pressure to help ease that discomfort. 

Better Circulation and Less Pain. As your uterus grows, it places more pressure on your veins. Specific hormones make you more susceptible to blood clots, which can lead to a condition like deep vein thrombosis (DVT).  Compression socks can prevent blood clots or blood pooling. Increased circulation helps ease body aches and pain.

Fewer Varicose Veins. Pregnancy increases your chance of developing varicose veins. This condition occurs when small valves inside the veins, which prevent blood from flowing backwards, don't work properly. Instead of flowing smoothly to your heart, the blood collects inside the vein and causes it to become enlarged and swollen. 

You can identify varicose veins by their color, which is a deep blue or dark purple. They may look like little knots or ropes running up and down your legs. Compression socks improve blood circulation, which can reduce the size of these veins. 

Things to Consider

Here are some things to consider when shopping for compression socks: 

Size. Typically, you'll search for compression socks that are the same size as your regular socks or shoe size. Some brands offer lettered sizes similar to pantyhose. The majority are grouped as small, medium, large, or extra large. Read the label carefully to find the most accurate fit. 

Pressure. Compression socks perform as advertised, providing gentle support. Yes, you will feel more pressure, but make sure the compression level works for you. If the fabric digs into your skin or is uncomfortably tight, opt for a lighter level. It may take some time to find a brand or pair that works best for you.

Practicality. Instead of putting them on like normal socks, compression stockings must be rolled onto your legs, similar to pantyhose. As you near the end of your pregnancy, bending over will become more difficult, so make sure they're relatively easy to take on and off. 

When to See Your Doctor

You don't need a prescription if you're wearing compression socks to alleviate pregnancy discomfort. However, if you notice the following issues, see your doctor: 

  • Skin irritation, redness, or changes in skin color, which is often a sign of infection
  • Pain or swelling in only one leg. This may indicate a blood clot. 

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Cleveland Clinic: "What You Should Know About Compression Socks." 

Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews: "Graduated compression stockings for prevention of deep vein thrombosis."

Mayo Clinic: "Mayo Clinic Q and A: Tips for using compression stockings." 

National Institutes of Health: "Physiological changes in pregnancy." 

NHS: "Overview: Varicose veins." 

Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports: "The effect of relaxin on the musculoskeletal system."

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