Haemorrhoids, or piles; you may have been warned about getting them as a youngster, particularly from such innocent activities as sitting on cold or hard surfaces. Well the good news is that you don't get haemorrhoids from sitting in particular places, but the bad news is that they are a common discomfort for pregnant women, so common in fact, that about half of all pregnant women will experience them. So, while it's not the nicest topic, it's a fact of life for many a pregnant woman and best not ignored.
What they are?
Haemorrhoids are abnormally swollen veins in your anus, essentially varicose veins in your bottom. They can be either internal or external and both varieties are likely to cause: itchiness around the anal area, pain with passing stools or tightening the anal passage, a feeling of fullness of the bowels and a feeling of not being 'finished' after passing a stool. There may also be a small amount of fresh blood passed with or after the stool.
Why do they occur during pregnancy?
There's a dual reason for haemorrhoids being common during pregnancy. In the first place your body is producing and needing to pump far more blood around your body, it's a lot more to cope with and circulation can become sluggish. This leads the veins in the rectum to dilate and stretch, particularly when the weight of the uterus begins to put pressure on your bottom.
In the second place your digestive system becomes sluggish during pregnancy and you're likely to suffer constipation. If passing stools becomes difficult and you strain while on the toilet, then you can put pressure on the veins around the anus, also causing them to swell abnormally. Constipation and straining bowel movements can either worsen existing piles or cause new ones to appear. You're even more likely to suffer constipation if you're taking an iron supplement for anaemia.
If you develop piles during pregnancy then they're more likely to occur in the second half of your pregnancy.
Is there anything I can do to lower the chances of getting piles?
You can't do anything about your increased blood supply but you can do something to avoid constipation and to promote natural bowel movements.
- Exercise -
Regular exercise can help encourage good circulation and exercise particular to the rectal area, pelvic floor exercises, will help increase circulation in the that specific area, lowering the chances of developing haemorrhoids.
- Avoid straining - During pregnancy, in as far as is possible, go to the toilet when you have the urge to go, rather than holding it in. Try not to force or strain when you're on the toilet: you may feel uncomfortable but if a movement isn't natural then try to wait. It's easier said than done, we know.
- Avoid constipation - Particularly if you're taking an iron supplement during pregnancy, you'll need to adapt your diet to ward of constipation. Increasing your intake of high-fibre foods will help: raw fruit and vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals and salads. Drink plenty of water to keep stools soft and try starting the day with warm water or warm water with lemon juice to get your digestive system working.
How can I get relief from piles once I have them
The good news is that piles will usually disappear themselves within a few weeks, though if you have them during pregnancy you may have repeat incidences until birth, and birth itself can be a pile-inducing occasion during the pushing stage. Occasionally an operation will be required to remove severe piles, but this isn't common.
In the meantime you can ease the discomfort and promote healing by following the advice above for avoiding piles, as well as the following:
- Self treatment - Some women find that a warm bath helps ease the pain of piles, while others find that an ice pack (don't apply the source directly to the anus) affords some relief.
You can also try soaking a pad or cotton wool in witch hazel and applying that to the area.
- Topical creams - There are several creams available for the treatment of piles, but be sure to ask your doctor to recommend one that is safe for use during pregnancy.
- Keep the area clean - Help limit discomfort and promote healing by keeping the anal area scrupulously clean, wash gently after each bowel movement or use hygenic wipes rather than toilet paper for wiping.
- Treat constipation - If you're constipated during pregnancy then avoid taking laxatives unless specifically recommended by your doctor. You can help encourage more regular bowel movements by increasing your fibre intake and drinking plenty of water, as above, and you may find that prune juice, dried fruits (particularly prunes and apricots) and beans help make a difference. Upping your fibre intake dramatically can also result in gas and cramping, so err on the side of caution as you increase your intake.
- Ease the pressure - Try to ease the pressure on your nether regions as you get heavier. Avoid sitting or standing for long periods, use strategically placed cushions from time-to-time as a support and try lying on your side, rather than your back for sleeping (a good idea for several other reasons as your bump develops).