As if some of the most common symptoms of pregnancy (fatigue, nausea, swelling) and postpartum recovery (pain, hormone changes, hair loss) weren’t enough, there’s one very unpleasant side effect you may have to deal with in both pre and post-birth stages: hemorrhoids. Hemorrhoids are more of a nuisance than anything, but once you have them you may do just about anything for some relief!
During pregnancy, your insides are literally shifting around to make room for that growing babe. When your intestines get displaced, that can cause changes in bowel habits. This can lead to constipation, and you guessed it: hemorrhoids. Later in your pregnancy, the actual added weight of the baby against your pelvic floor can cause additional pressure, increasing your chance of hemorrhoids. It’s estimated that up to 85% of pregnant women may experience hemorrhoids in the late stage of pregnancy1.
During and after childbirth, hemorrhoids can be caused by a few factors. If you give birth vaginally, all of the pressure and pushing during final stages of labor can create great strain on the blood vessels around the anus. If you give birth via C-Section, sometimes the pain medications you receive cause constipation and later hemorrhoids. Finally, if you choose to breastfeed, your hydration needs typically increase. If you’re not drinking enough water, you may experience constipation, and yes… hemorrhoids that appear or worsen postpartum.
If you happen to get hemorrhoids during pregnancy, it can be difficult to get rid of them even months after giving birth. Plus, you probably aren’t putting yourself first at every moment after welcoming a new baby! Unfortunately, there is no magic remedy to get rid of hemorrhoids overnight, but there are lots of things you can do throughout pregnancy and the postpartum period to ease the irritation of hemorrhoids. The first three recommendations can help both prevent and soothe hemorrhoids, while the last three can help with existing hemorrhoids.
HYDRATE, HYDRATE, HYDRATE
Your hydration needs to increase when you’re pregnant. After all, your body is working hard to grow a human! Once you welcome that bundle of joy, if you choose to breastfeed, your hydration needs increase even more. It’s important to do whatever you need to do to stay on top of your water consumption during these critical times. Buy yourself an extra large water jug, track your water glasses through an app, set a reminder on your phone–whatever it takes! Staying hydrated is beneficial for a multitude of reasons, but hydrating will help “keep you regular” and decrease your chances of developing hemorrhoids. Avoiding constipation and having easier bowel movements will also help any existing hemorrhoids heal properly.
EAT THE RIGHT FOODS
When you’re pregnant and later caring for a newborn, you may want all the comfort food you can get. Sure, you can indulge yourself some (you deserve it!), but your body needs the right nutrients during these time periods more than ever. Fiber is particularly important in the prevention and soothing of hemorrhoids. Good sources of fiber include whole wheat, many fresh fruits and vegetables, and legumes and nuts. Some specific examples of foods high in fiber are oatmeal, apples, broccoli, and black beans.
If you find it difficult to consume enough fiber through your diet, you may want to consider a fiber supplement. Finally, drinking water becomes even more important with a high-fiber diet. If you’re not drinking enough water, eating a fiber-rich diet can actually backfire!
TAKE STOOL SOFTENERS
If you’re offered stool softeners in the hospital, take them. In fact, if you’re currently expecting, you may want to buy some in advance of delivery to have them on hand. Stool softeners can help prevent hemorrhoids by lessening strain, but they can also make it more comfortable to have a bowel movement if you’ve already developed hemorrhoids. Furthermore, if your perineum is healing from a vaginal childbirth, stool softeners can make your postpartum bathroom trips a little less scary.
When choosing a stool softener, be sure you do NOT opt for a laxative containing stimulants. Some laxatives can cause cramping in the abdomen, which is not something you particularly want if you’re pregnant (especially in the third trimester) or postpartum.
USE AN OVER-THE-COUNTER REMEDY
Immediate relief may be as simple as a trip to your local drugstore. There’s now an array of over-the-counter (OTC) external creams and ointments designed for hemorrhoid relief. Most options will have separate ingredients to treat both the itchiness and pain associated with hemorrhoids. You may even want to try a hemorrhoid-soothing suppository or medicated wipes. For something a little more “natural,” many moms swear by witch hazel, which now comes in the form of pre-moistened, medicated pads.
TRY A SITZ BATH
A sitz bath simply means sitting in warm water to soak your rectal area. There are lots of things you can buy for a sitz bath, special tubs and soaks, but really all you need is a bathtub or a large bucket/bin. You can either soak in plain hot to warm water or add in some epsom salts. Adding anything else to the water, especially anything with added fragrance or color, is not necessary and may actually irritate the area even further. A sitz bath can immediately soothe hemorrhoids, but it can also relieve perineal pain from a vaginal birth, so it’s a two-for-one! Taking ample time for yourself can be challenging when caring for a new baby, but try if you can to soak three times per day.
COOL OFF A LITTLE
Finally, you may want to opt for something cooling in addition to a warm sitz bath. Applying a cold compress to your hemorrhoids is likely to elicit a sigh of relief. And like sitz baths, a cold compress can be helpful if your perineal area is healing from birth. Just make sure you’re not applying anything too cold, like ice cubes, directly to your skin. That may be too extreme, especially if you’ve just had a vaginal birth.
Hemorrhoids may be one of the most annoying side effects of pregnancy and birth, but these tips should ease some of that pesky itchiness and pain. If you feel that your hemorrhoids are serious, interfering with your daily life, or they are long-lasting with little to no improvement over time, please consult with your healthcare provider.
1 National Library of Medicine: “Hemorrhoids in Pregnancy”