You May Be Affected By A Painful Couplet Of Discomforts: Constipation And Hemorrhoids

During pregnancy, you may be affected by a painful couplet of discomforts: constipation and hemorrhoids. Fortunately, these problems are largely preventable and can usually be treated by dietary and lifestyle changes. Best of all, the worst is usually over within a few weeks of your baby's birth. Here you can find out more about these problems, and what you can do to minimize their effects.
What it is
Pregnant women commonly suffer from constipation -- the passage of small amounts of hard, dry bowel movements, usually fewer than three times a week. Women who are constipated may find it difficult and painful to have a bowel movement, though other symptoms of constipation include feeling bloated, uncomfortable, and sluggish.

During the months of pregnancy, women often complain of constipation, as hormonal changes may relax the bowel and alter the digestive system. Iron supplements or prenatal vitamins containing iron may cause constipation. When the baby arrives, the problem doesn't instantly disappear -- it is also a common problem following birth.

A diet with enough fiber (20 to 35 grams each day) will help you avoid constipation. High-fiber foods include beans; whole grains and bran cereals; fresh fruits; and vegetables such as asparagus, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and carrots.

Some more tips on avoiding constipation:

  • Drink 8-10 glasses of liquid (especially water) between meals
  • Eat whole grain and bran cereals, breads, and muffins
  • Eat more raw fruits and vegetables
  • Eat stewed prunes, apricots, or prune juice
  • Drink hot liquids, like soups, broth and tea
  • Snack on dried fruits, such as raisins and prunes
  • Take daily walks (20-30 minutes per day)

Nutritionist Martha Belury, PhD, RD, notes, "While fluids are important for your health and that of the baby's, they are also excellent for the health of your digestive system. Fluids, such as water and juices, soften stools and add bulk so that stools move a little more quickly through the intestinal system."

Laxatives & stool softeners
Laxatives are medications that will help you to pass stool. Most people who are mildly constipated do not need them, however, if you are taking preventative measures and you are still constipated, your healthcare provider may recommend laxatives for a limited time. Don't take any medications -- even over-the-counter laxatives -- without consulting your caregiver, as some laxatives are not for use during pregnancy.

Fiber supplements, such as Citracil, Fibercon or Metamucil, may be a good starting point. One drawback of using laxatives to promote normal bowel function is that your own intestinal tract may become sluggish and "forget" how to have a normal bowel movement.

With permission of your caregiver, you might also want to try a stool softener, such as colace. These are often prescribed just after childbirth and also may be included in some prenatal vitamins.

Hemorrhoids are swollen but normally present blood vessels in and around the anus and lower rectum that stretch under pressure, similar to varicose veins in the legs. Hemorrhoids are either inside the anus (internal) or under the skin around the anus (external).

Hemorrhoids are common among pregnant women. The pressure of the fetus in the abdomen, as well as hormonal changes, cause the hemorrhoidal vessels to enlarge. These vessels are also placed under severe pressure during childbirth. Fortunately, for most women, hemorrhoids caused by pregnancy are a temporary problem.

Medical treatment of hemorrhoids initially is aimed at relieving symptoms. Measures to reduce symptoms include:

  • Warm tub or sitz baths several times a day in plain, warm water for about 10 minutes.
  • Ice packs to help reduce swelling.
  • Application of a hemorroidal cream or suppository to the affected area for a limited time.
Good luck!

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