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Recovering from a vaginal birth

Congratulations new mama!

Before we get into the nitty-gritty about helping you recover from a vaginal birth, let’s revel in the fact that your body has grown and birthed a human – you are amazing

It’s not often that we celebrate the strength and resilience of the vagina, vulva and perineum so I want to take a moment to reassure you that while the idea of healing from vaginal birth may feel daunting, in time and with the right information you can feel like “you” again.

So erm, how much time exactly?…

If you require stitches, they will generally dissolve over 7-10 days and on average, perineal tears/episiotomies take around 6 weeks to heal completely. However, this doesn’t take into account pelvic floor rehabilitation and it’s important to note that enormous variety exists within the ‘vaginal birth’ category. One person may be recovering from a small labial graze while another may have required surgery and pelvic floor physio. Try to avoid comparing and be gentle with yourself. Our bodies are unique, recovery will be too. 

What can I do to help myself heal? 

Hygiene 

Keep the area clean and dry.  Changing your pad every 2-3 hours can help you achieve this. 

Finding time for a daily shower can be challenging as a new mum but as your perineum heals, it’s important you prioritise this. Rinse the area with warm water (not too hot) and pat dry. If you can, allow the area to air dry. Simply pop a towel down on the bed, bottoms off and let the area breathe. 

Tight synthetic underwear is not your friend. Aim for breathable fabrics and size up for the first week or so. It’s not uncommon for your body to feel swollen for the first few days.

Comfort

If you are in pain, adequate pain relief is a must. It’s common to feel ‘after birth pains’ (uterine cramps) and significant tenderness around your vulva until everything settles. 

Taking proper comfort measures will aid mobility and sleep – two things that support recovery. Paracetamol and Ibuprofen are generally sufficient and are safe for breastfeeding. Take as per packet instructions and consult your doctor if you have any concerns. 

In addition, cool compress such as ice packs or frozen maternity pads against the perineum can soothe discomfort and prevent swelling, particularly when used in the first 24 hours after birth. 

Avoid becoming dehydrated, as concentrated urine will cause stitches to burn as it passes over the wound. 

Using a peri spray bottle or pop-top water bottle to rinse the area with water while urinating can work wonders for minimizing sting. 

Bowel motions 

Speaking of the toilet… The first poo after a vaginal birth can be super daunting but I promise, it will be okay. It’s not unusual for your bowels to take a couple of days to return to ‘normal’. Your midwife may even offer you a stool softener to keep things moving. Remain hydrated, increase your dietary fibre and don’t strain – it will happen. 

Many women find it comforting to wrap their fingers in toilet paper and gently support the stitches while opening their bowels. 

Nutrition 

Eating well in the postpartum is important for a range of reasons. We know that good food is a tool that can help you achieve optimal healing after birth. Your incredible body is replenishing blood stores, healing tissues and nurturing another human. 

While it’s tempting to reach for chippies, or yet another slice of toast, try to nourish yourself with lean protein, wholegrains and lots of fibre rich veggies. Fill your freezer during pregnancy OR lean on your friends. If someone says, “Do you need anything?” your reply is, “A healthy meal! Thanks so much”. 

Slow down

Western culture is obsessed with showcasing our ability to ‘do it all’. This way of life simply does not fit with adequate postpartum recovery and can actually cause damage to our mental and physical well-being. You might have experienced a textbook labour and birth but inflict trauma on your pelvic floor simply by pushing yourself too hard in the postpartum period.

This can look like slapping on the exercise tights way too soon, pushing a heavy pram, carrying a load of shopping in from the car and generally feeling pressure to show the world “I’m okay! I’m killing this motherhood game!”.

Slow. It. Down. 

For the first week after birth, limit periods of standing and walking. If you can, lie down as much as possible. This is a strategy to alleviate pressure on the pelvic floor which is currently recovering from a mammoth task. Learning to breastfeed in a side-lying position can be great. The following week, you will be more ready for a short walk, but again – don’t push it. A women’s health physio can help you ease back into exercise in a way that will protect your recovery, not hinder it. I can’t recommend an appointment more!

Pelvic floor assessment 

While we’re on the topic, women’s health physios are not just there to help you get back into Pilates. These actual angels are highly skilled in the rehabilitation and recovery of all things pelvic floor. This can include preventing and treating bladder or bowel leakage,  teaching you how to do your pelvic floor exercises properly, healing from tears or cuts sustained in birth, sexual function and generally helping you restore confidence in your body. The general recommendation is to book an appointment for around 6 weeks, but if you can link in with one during pregnancy – even better. 

Good luck with your recovery Mama. While it’s perfectly understandable and so, so normal to get swept up in the beautiful, messy chaos of the fourth trimester, try and remember to take care of yourself too.

What has been your experience with recovery after birth? Let us know in the comments.


Expert author: Beth Ryan

Beth Ryan is a registered midwife with a Masters degree in Public Health. You can find out more about her by following her on instagram here.

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