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Hemorrhoids are veins in or around the anus that become swollen and inflamed. They’re itchy, uncomfortable, and, unfortunately, more likely to occur during pregnancy.

The pressure from your growing baby on your intestines can increase your chances of developing hemorrhoids as you progress in your pregnancy. This is because you’re more likely to have constipation that can contribute to hemorrhoids.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to treat hemorrhoids. Let’s take a closer look.

Pregnancy can cause hemorrhoids, in large part due to the greater likelihood of constipation during pregnancy. Constipation is when you have difficulty passing stool or aren’t able to pass stool as frequently.

There are a few aspects of pregnancy that make constipation more likely, such as:

  • having higher progesterone levels, which makes it take longer for stool to pass through the intestines
  • having lower levels of motilin, which is a hormone that increases intestinal movement
  • being less physically active
  • taking iron and calcium supplements, which can contribute to constipation

When the uterus gets larger throughout pregnancy, it can also slow down fecal movement.

When you’re constipated and stool gets dry or harder to pass, you may strain when you try to make a bowel movement. This straining can put extra pressure on the veins and lead to hemorrhoids.

You may also sit on the toilet longer to try and pass your stool, which can increase the likelihood for hemorrhoids.

A low-fiber diet can also contribute to hemorrhoids, as can a history of chronic constipation or diarrhea before you were pregnant.

Hemorrhoids are usually at their most irritating after you’ve had a bowel movement or engaged in strenuous activity. Some of the symptoms include:

  • itching in your anal area
  • a tender lump you can feel on the edge of your anus
  • pain or discomfort, especially after you go to the bathroom
  • a small amount of blood on your toilet paper after you go to the bathroom

You won’t always be able to feel a hemorrhoid — sometimes the hemorrhoid is inside your rectal area.

Treating hemorrhoids involves a combination of reducing symptoms and preventing them from coming back. If your hemorrhoids don’t respond to at-home treatments and the cause is constipation-related, your doctor may recommend taking laxatives or stool softeners, which make stool easier to pass.

When you’re pregnant, it’s always best to get the go-ahead from your doctor before taking a medication, even if it’s available over-the-counter.

According to the journal Canadian Family Physician, there haven’t been many studies about the safety of laxatives in pregnancy. However, because of the way many of the treatments work (they aren’t absorbed systemically), doctors usually regard them as safe.

Examples include:

  • bulk-forming agents, such as bran and psyllium
  • stool softeners, such as docusate sodium (available for purchase here)

However, it’s important to be aware of the side effects of any medications you may take. For example, some of the medications can cause lots of fluid losses through your stool. As a result, you may need to up your water intake to prevent dehydration and electrolyte imbalances.

While there are surgical treatments for hemorrhoids, your doctor won’t usually recommend any type of surgical approach while you’re pregnant. Ideally, after you have your baby, your hemorrhoid symptoms should improve.

For most expectant moms, some at-home steps can help to reduce hemorrhoids and their symptoms. Some examples include:

  • using baby wipes to cleanse your bottom after going to the bathroom
  • using cloth-covered ice packs to reduce swelling for 10-minute time intervals
  • using the bathroom as soon as you feel like you need to have a bowel movement
  • applying anti-itch ointments, such as hydrocortisone cream
  • using witch hazel-soaked pads (such as Tuck’s pads, available for purchase here) to relieve itching

A study published in the journal Women and Birth looked at applying a topical cream or using sitz bathsto treat hemorrhoids in 495 pregnant women.

At the conclusion of the study, researchers found sitz baths to be 100 percent effective in treating hemorrhoids. These baths consisted of sitting in a bath of salty, warm water three times a day.

You can also purchase a shallow bath pan, such as this one from Amazon, that fits over your toilet seat to create a sitz bath without having to fill your bathtub.

While you can’t change the rise in hormones and growing belly during pregnancy, your diet and exercise routine can go a long way in treating hemorrhoids during pregnancy. Some preventive steps you can take include:

  • increasing your daily water intake to make stool softer and less painful to pass
  • increasing your daily fiber intake by eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (unless your doctor has instructed otherwise)
  • increasing your daily physical activity, such as walking (your activities don’t have to be high-impact to be effective)
  • refraining from sitting on the toilet too long if you aren’t having a bowel movement

Always check with your doctor before upping your exercise routine to ensure you can exercise safely during your pregnancy.

While hemorrhoids are a literal pain, there are treatments that can ease the discomforts.

If at-home methods don’t work well, you’re having difficulty passing stool, or you see more than a small streak of blood on your toilet paper, talk to your doctor. These symptoms may require more aggressive interventions to promote bowel regularity and reduce hemorrhoid discomfort.