Haemorrhoids are swollen veins in the anus and rectum that appear as painful lumps. They can stick out from the anus (external haemorrhoids) or they can be located inside the rectum (internal haemorrhoids). Haemorrhoids can be itchy, uncomfortable, and painful; and they may sometimes bleed. Haemorrhoids affect 20-50% of pregnant women. Haemorrhoids can also develop postpartum as a result of pushing during labor but they usually go away after that.
Causes of Haemorrhoids during pregnancy
- The enlarged uterus places extra pressure on the rectum and vagina.
- The increased blood flow to the pelvic area during pregnancy can cause the veins in the rectal wall to swell, bulge, and itch.
- Constipation, a common problem during pregnancy, can cause and aggravate haemorrhoids. Constipation usually leads to straining during bowel movements which puts pressure on the veins and make them swell.
How to cope with Haemorrhoids
It is important to try to relieve or prevent constipation by:
- Eating a high-fiber diet that includes lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- Drinking plenty of water and fluids.
- Avoiding straining during bowel movements.
- Asking the doctor to recommend a stool softener to prevent straining.
Treating painful and Itchy Haemorrhoids
- Soak in plain warm water in a tub or sitz bath several times a day (2-3 times). Warm water can help shrink or soothe haemorrhoids. Add baking soda to the water to relieve itching. Kegel exercise (in the anal area) could be done during the soaking or on its own as this may help in preventing and treating haemorrhoids by improving the circulation to the area. How they are done: tense the muscles around the anus and hold up to ten seconds; then slowly release and then repeat as much as possible.
- Apply ice pack compresses to the area several times a day to help relieve swelling.
- Keep the anal area clean by wiping carefully after each bowel movement. Use pre-moistened wipes (fragrance and alcohol free), or soaking cotton balls in warm water may be more comfortable than using dry toilet paper. Wiping too hard may irritate sensitive tissues.
- Avoid sitting or standing for long periods as it puts pressure on the veins in the anus and rectum. If sitting is a must, then take frequent breaks. Also use a doughnut-shaped pillow to make sitting a little less painful.
- Sleep on the side, rather than on the back, to reduce pressure on the area. Also lie down on the left side a few times a day to relieve the pressure on the rectal veins.
- Avoid tight-fitting underwear, pants, or pantyhose.
If necessary ask your doctor to recommend a haemorrhoid cream or drug that is safe to use during pregnancy.