Perineal Recovery After Childbirth
Ok, your due date is approaching and you’re preparing yourself for what ever nature throws at you. So many questions and so many unknowns but we do the best we can to prepare. We take antenatal classes. We spend late nights Googling, reading books and magazines, asking advice from family and friends. What will it feel like? Will I cope? Will it hurt? You imagine the joy of having baby in your arms…. “it will all be worth it”.
You’re right. It’s all worth it. However, let’s be real in what to expect post birth if you have a vaginal delivery. Let’s focus on one area that….lets face it….goes through the ringer. The perineum and your perineal recovery!
Pregnancy alone affects the perineum. The growing baby and uterus place added pressure on all of the maternal pelvic structures – muscles, ligaments and nerves. During the birth process, your uterus contracts and your cervix opens, eventually pushing your baby through the birth canal. What may not be so apparent is that as the baby moves through the vagina, he also moves through your pelvic floor – overlapping, crisscrossed layers of muscles attached one end at your pubic bone and the other at your tailbone supporting all of your internal organs. This strong muscle group helps you push the baby through the birth canal, but is also stretched with the passage. In addition, the perineum – that tissue between the vaginal opening and the anus – is strained and sometimes cut or torn.
Your recovery will depend on the types of interventions you’ve had during the birth process. If you’ve had a spontaneous vaginal birth with no incision or tearing of the perineal tissues, your lady parts will feel (understandably) swollen and tender. It can take 6 weeks for you to feel fully back to normal. If you’ve had an episiotomy or a tear, then you will likely have had stitches. The incision will heal in 7 to 10 days, but it can take longer for the swelling and tenderness to subside.
During your postpartum recovery, your perineum will need some extra TLC. It’s definitely earned it!
Here are some self-care tips to help make you more comfortable.
Keep it clean: Even though it’s tender down there, be sure to wash the area to prevent infection. After urinating, spray with some water to cleanse the tissues, and gently pat dry. Don’t forget you’ll be bleeding for a little while, too. Be sure to change your pad often. Try our Reusable Mensural Pads made from bamboo charcoal, designed to be gentle on the skin.
Ice it down: Especially in the early hours after birth, ice will feel incredibly soothing. Our BodyICE Woman Perineum Strip is designed especially for this purpose – ice is a natural pain relief and this easy-to-use perineal ice pack should be packed in your hospital bag and frozen ready to use post birth. It fits conveniently in your panties. #Winning
After a few days post birth: A warm bath can do a world of good. Ever consider adding herbs to your bath water? Commonly used herbs that have a soothing effect include comfrey, calendula, rosemary, and lavender. Adding Epsom salts to the water might be useful, as well, since salt water is mildly antiseptic.
Use some witch hazel compresses or spray: Products made with extracts from the bark or leaves of the witch hazel plant are thought to reduce swelling, help skin heal and prevent infection. You may want to add some witch hazel to a spray bottle and spritz it on when you go to the bathroom, or you may want to wipe with witch hazel towelettes or pads.
Start your pelvic floor exercises: As soon as you feel up to it after the birth, start pelvic floor exercises. To start, simply think about trying to draw your muscles up as though you’re trying to stop your pee. You pelvic floor exercises are vital and can help heal an episiotomy or tear, decrease the likelihood of developing incontinence or prolapse, and aid with postpartum back, hip or pelvic pain.
Eat well and stay hydrated: Being well-hydrated helps tissues heal faster, and can keep you from getting constipated. Be sure you’re eating plenty of fibre to keep yourself regular. You’ll have some discomfort even with passing normal stool in the early days, and you don’t want to get backed up. You may even want to discuss a stool softener with your healthcare provider.
Get some rest and don’t overdo it: You need some recovery time – so don’t push yourself to do too much, too soon. If you’re fatigued and feel pressure in your perineum, get horizontal and rest! Let others deal with housekeeping and meal prep. Focus on your baby and your body. Recovery will be shorter if you allow yourself the downtime needed to heal.
Perineal massage: Wait at least 10 to 14 days after the birth (and until any tear or incision heals), but eventually begin massaging the perineum to help break up any scar tissue. Use your favorite massage oil and not too much pressure to start, gently massaging in half-moon passes along the vaginal opening. This can be particularly useful before resuming intercourse.
As your perineal tissues heal, watch for any signs of infection (increased pain, redness, fever) and be sure to notify your healthcare provider right away. Good pelvic health is an important part of your postpartum recovery and lifelong fitness. While you’re enjoying your new baby, don’t neglect your own healing.