Most women would like to pretend that hemorrhoids do not exist. But during pregnancy, they may crop up or become more severe if you're already suffering. Symptoms include bleeding, itching, and soreness in the rectal area.
Hemorrhoids (also called piles) occur when rectal veins swell due to increased pressure. "During pregnancy, hemorrhoids are caused by the sheer weight of the uterus on the veins," says Lisa Domagalski, M.D. FACOG, an ob-gyn at Women and Infants Hospital in Rhode Island and assistant clinical instructor at Brown University.
Constipation, often a problem since pregnancy slows down the gastrointestinal tract, can exacerbate hemorrhoids. The key to preventing constipation is to drink plenty of water and eat at least two grams of fiber every day -- good sources include bran cereal, apples, and spinach. Your doctor may recommend fiber supplements or stool softeners.
To get relief, cleanse with witch hazel pads (Tucks) after a bowel movement, soak in a warm sitz bath, apply an ice pack, and avoid sitting on hard surfaces. Ask your doctor about trying over-the-counter creams, such as Preparation H Hydrocortisone 1% Anti-Itch Cream, that temporarily relieve itch and inflammation.
In rare cases, painful blood clots, called thrombosed hemorrhoids, can form inside the veins. If this happens, you'll need to have them surgically removed in a minor procedure before your delivery.
But there is good news: "Hemorrhoids do get better after delivery," Domagalski says. "They can shrink considerably or totally disappear."