Of all the (not so) fun and exciting surprises your body has in store for you during and after pregnancy, hemorrhoids are definitely one of the most annoying. Anyone can develop hemorrhoids at any time, but they're particularly common for expecting and new moms. And because hemorrhoids are one of those things that nobody likes to talk about, you might not know what to expect — or that one of the most popular and effective treatments is plain old inexpensive witch hazel. So how does witch hazel help hemorrhoids?
First, let's take a look at what hemorrhoids actually are, and why you're more prone to getting them before and after birth. Hemorrhoids are swollen veins in and around the rectum (so essentially, varicose veins of the butt). They can be tiny like a raisin or big like a grape, and can be internal (usually painless) or external (painful and oftentimes incredibly itchy). Then, of course, there are other lovely variations on the hemorrhoid theme, such as thrombosed (hemorrhoids with a little blood clot inside) and prolapsed (internal hemorrhoids that, um, sort of fall out and get super painful). Pregnancy can cause hemorrhoids for a variety of reasons, according to BabyCenter, including the pressure your expanding uterus puts on pelvic veins, causing them to swell. An increase of the hormone progesterone, meanwhile, also makes veins more likely to swell (and contributes to constipation, which is another huge trigger for hemorrhoids). And even if you manage to make it through your pregnancy without getting hemorrhoids, you might end up getting them from all that pushing during labor.
Hemorrhoids are awful no matter when you get them, of course, and once you have them there's no guarantee they won't come back from time to time for the rest of your life. On the bright side, they're usually not too difficult to treat at home — thanks to the magic of witch hazel, that is. The main active ingredient in such over-the-counter wipes as Tucks, witch hazel is an astringent that comes from the plant of the same name with naturally-occurring ingredients that help to soothe and heal.
"Witch hazel contains chemicals called tannins that can help reduce swelling and fight bacteria, which in turn decreases pain and helps prevent infection," Kelly Kasper, M.D., an ob-gyn at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis, told Parents.
In addition, witch hazel has "hemostatic" properties, meaning it can stop minor bleeding. (And here's something you might not have heard: Witch hazel can help to heal your vagina following birth and even cut down on the risk of developing vaginal infections postpartum, as OB-GYN Dr. Jamil Abdur-Rahman told Romper for a previous article.)
Most commercial witch hazel wipes will deliver the desired results, but straight-up witch hazel tends to work just as well for way less money, and without added ingredients that could cause side effects.
There are a number of ways you can administer witch hazel to your poor, afflicted bottom, but many a mom has raved about the cooling relief of this method recommended on Mama Natural: "Soak a pad in organic witch hazel, freeze, and apply to hemorrhoids (great for postpartum too!)." This technique works especially well with maxi-pads.
Can't wait for your maxi-pad to freeze? Don't worry, you'll still get a cooling sensation from the room temp witch hazel. And though it can feel really strange and sort of scary to full-on touch the odd and painful protuberance hanging from your nether regions, don't be shy. I even have one friend who, after giving birth, was instructed by the nurse at her hospital to take a Tucks pad and gently squeeze her hemorrhoid to make the swelling go down. (Ah, the things we do as moms! And you thought changing diapers was going to be the worst of it.)
As a mother-of-three who has way more personal experience with pregnancy and postpartum hemorrhoids than I care to think about, I'm a firm believer that every mom needs a bottle of witch hazel in her medicine cabinet... or better yet, in her refrigerator. Because the last thing you need with a new baby is one more pain in the butt!