What's Up with Pregnancy Hemorrhoids?

Piles, hemorrhoids, whatever you call them, they're a pain in the butt and one of the symptoms of pregnancy we would just as soon avoid. Here are some coping tips.

What's Up with Pregnancy Hemorrhoids? Yuriy Rudyy/Shutterstock

Here's one of those questions everyone wants answered but so few are brave enough to ask. Because it's a rather sensitive subject, I'm not including my reader's name but honey, thank you for this one. She's seven months along and has, in her words: piles. Yep, those are hemorrhoids. They are oh-so-common during pregnancy and delivery and oh-so-uncomfortable. Here's an interesting bit of hemorrhoid trivia: Napoleon Bonaparte, that crotchety little war-monger, suffered from hemorrhoids and apparently, on the day of the famous Battle of Waterloo, had such an extreme flare-up, he delayed battle for a number of hours to deal with the pain before getting on his horse. Historians ponder whether this gave the British the advantage. No really, historians ponder this kind of stuff.

Hemorrhoids are varicose veins in the rectum. They're common in pregnancy for a few reasons: 1) Pregnant women get constipated easily. Their intestines process food slowly in order to absorb every possible molecule of nutrient for the hungry fetus. It also grabs every drop of water for maternal/fetal circulation and leaves very little behind to make soft poops for your little behind. 2) The extra blood supply pregnant women have that supplies all of baby's nutritional and circulatory needs make our blood vessels full and a little distended. There's also lots of extra circulation to the pelvic region. 3). That big baby and heavy uterus is putting pressure on those nice full veins.

So, how do 1, 2, and 3 add up to hemorrhoids? When you're constipated and you have to push hard to go number two or when you're pushing during delivery, those full and fragile veins may poke out of your rectum. If you've been lucky enough to avoid them, let me paint the picture: They feel like a lump sticking out of your butt. They're itchy and painful; they burn and sometimes bleed. Most of the time they're not dangerous but they're mighty unpleasant. You want to avoid getting them if possible by drinking lots of extra fluids, eating a high-fiber diet full of fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Exercise helps the intestines move things along. The bottom line: avoid constipation.

If you've done all that and you get them anyway, don't panic. There are plenty of ways to make your bottom feel better. Try some of the over-the-counter products like witch hazel (soak cotton pads in witch hazel and leave them on your rectum) Tucks or Preparation H. Keep it especially clean down there by wiping with moistened toilet paper or even baby wipes. Apply ice packs or try warm baths to reduce swelling and irritation. These tricks usually relieve most of the symptoms and help shrink the blood vessels. If you're in a lot of pain or they're bleeding, call your doctor. This is embarrassing, I know, but believe me; they're expecting your call. Hemorrhoids are as common as fleas on a dog and way more annoying. Your doctor will determine if you need to come in to the office to have them checked out or if a prescription will do the trick. In extreme cases, they have to be dealt with surgically but that's not common.

Just one more thing to chock up to the glamour of motherhood. Ah, the things we put up with for our children. Guess what, they're totally worth it. No really. Historians would agree.