Many women get hemorrhoids (also called ‘piles’) during pregnancy, especially in the third trimester. These are swellings or ‘varicose veins’ in the rectum and are referred to as piles because of the resemblance they bear to a pile of grapes or marbles. Hemorrhoids may itch, ache or feel sore. In most occasions, you feel the lumpiness of piles around your anus. They may also bleed a little and can make going to the toilet uncomfortable or painful. You may also notice pain when passing a stool and a discharge of mucus afterwards. Sometimes, you may feel as though your bowels are still full and need emptying.
Half of all pregnant women develop hemorrhoids. Anyone can get them though and it’s not a condition limited to pregnancies. Having hemorrhoids before pregnancy practically guarantees your developing them during.
What causes them?
Well, increased abdominal pressure from your growing uterus and the increase in blood flow into your pelvic area during pregnancy may cause your rectal veins to swell, bulge and itch. Pregnancy hormone, progesterone, makes your veins relax and limits blood flow out of your pelvic region and is a contributing factor. Constipation, a common occurrence during pregnancy, may also cause and aggravate hemorrhoids as a hard stool may cause you to bear down increasing pressure on the rectal region. Pushing during labour has been known to cause postpartum piles.
What can you do to relieve the pain?
- Up your water and dietary fibre intake. Food that is high in fibre, like whole grain, beans, fruit and vegetables, as well as drinking plenty of water will help prevent constipation which can make piles worse.
- Do your kegels religiously to improve blood flow in and out of your pelvic floor and rectal area to relieve some of the pressure and strengthen the muscles around the anus, decreasing the chance of hemorrhoids. They also strengthen and tone the muscles around the vagina and urethra, which can help your body recover after you give birth.
- Sleep on your left side. At home, lie on your left side when sleeping, reading, or watching TV to take the pressure off your rectal veins and help increase blood return from the lower half of your body.
- Keep on the move Avoid sitting or standing for long stretches of time. If your job involves sitting, get up and move around for a few minutes every hour or so. This will in addition to relieving pelvic pressure, also improve your circulation.
- Don’t force it. Don’t wait when you have the urge to have a bowel movement, try not to strain when you’re moving your bowels, and don’t linger on the toilet, because it puts pressure on the area.
- Take a warm bath or sit in a basin of warm water placed on your toilet bowl for 10-15 minutes a few times each day to decrease some of the soreness.
- Try an ice pack or a cloth wrung out in iced water to ease the pain – hold it gently against the piles. Try alternating between cold and warm treatments.
- Get a donut shaped pillow if sitting is uncomfortable. This will ease the pressure from your weight and reduce the pain.
- Clean the area thoroughly as maintaining the highest levels of hygiene will help avoid infection and relieve irritation. Use unscented white toilet paper as the coloured kind could aggravate the irritation. Some women find using wet wipes instead of toilet paper to be more comfortable. Premoistened wipes specially made for people with hemorrhoids are also available in some chemists.
- See a doctor or midwife about hemorroid treatment in case of severe pain for medicines that can help soothe inflammation around your anus. These treat the symptoms, but not the cause, of piles.
When to call your doctor
If you experience any bleeding from your anus, be sure to see your doctor. Most likely, however, it’s the hemorrhoids bleeding (likely when you’re bearing down during a bowel movement) or an anal fissure (cracks in the skin of the anus caused by straining from constipation).
In most cases, hemorrhoids get better about a week after delivery, especially with the aid of these self treatment measures. In some cases you may need to see a specialist for treatment to shrink your hemorrhoids. Surgery is needed only in very rare cases to correct the problem.