Hemorrhoids, the inflamed and swollen veins of the rectum and anus, are fairly common in pregnancy. They are not only painful, but they can also persist and often worsen as the pregnancy progresses.
Hemorrhoids will most often develop in later pregnancy as the blood volume increases and the uterus is pressed against the wall of the pelvis. This, in turn, can cause the veins of the anus or rectum to swell into grape-like clusters. Hemorrhoids happen predominately in the third trimester but tend to resolve quickly after birth.
Hemorrhoids and Constipation
Hemorrhoids that occur during pregnancy are further aggravated by constipation. The passing of hard stool not only scrapes and damages already inflamed tissue, but the straining of the bowel can also cause the formation of even more hemorrhoids.
Avoiding constipation is important, especially during the latter stages of pregnancy. There are several ways you can do this:
- Eat a high fiber diet that includes 25 to 30 grams of dietary fiber per day from fruits, vegetables, whole-grain bread, bran, and breakfast cereal
- Drink plenty of fluids, especially water
- Moderate your use of caffeinated drinks like coffee, tea, or cola
- Avoid fried foods, high-fat dairy products, chips, and store-bought cookies and pastries
- Eat dried fruits or drink prune juice
In addition, iron supplements may cause constipation. Since many women need to supplement with iron during pregnancy, talk to your doctor to see if there are any non-binding alternatives you should try.
If you already have constipation, try using a warm-water enema to help evacuate the bowels. It can help minimize the abrasion while preventing the straining that can worsen the situation.
If needed, you can turn to laxatives and stool softeners for short-term relief. Talk to your doctor to determine what type of over-the-counter laxative is best for you.
Other Preventive Measures
In addition to preventing and treating constipation, there are other things you can do to prevent hemorrhoids.
Sitting or standing for long periods of time places added pressure on the pelvis during pregnancy and can lead to the development or worsening of hemorrhoids. If you are required to sit at a desk for hours at a time, try to stand up every 30 minutes or so to stretch and walk around.
If, on the other hand, you need to stand on your feet for long periods of time (say, at a checkout counter or convention both), ask for a bar-height stool to sit on.
Unless you are on bedrest or modified bed rest, one of the best ways to prevent hemorrhoids is to exercise. Exercising keeps waste moving through the intestines rather than allowing it to consolidate and harden.
Talk to your doctor to make sure moderate exercise is right for you, and avoid things like weightlifting squats, which can place excessive pressure on the anus and rectum.
Ease Hemorrhoid Discomfort
If you already have hemorrhoids, there are some things you can do to relieve the itching and pain:
- Use a hemorrhoid preparation ointment (such as Preparation H or Anusol)
- Try a sitz bath, a mini-tub that fits over your toilet and allows you to run warm water over the hemorrhoids for cleansing and relief. You can also try soaking in a tub of warm water with baking soda to ease the itching.
- Use witch hazel or witch hazel pads (such as Tucks)
- Avoid straining on the toilet (rather go when only you need to go)
Since hemorrhoids tend to get better after birth, surgery is probably not an option worth considering unless they are particularly severe. In such case, speak with a specialist about the types of surgical and non-surgical procedures that may be right for you.