Take Care of Your Vagina After Birth
You know we’ll always keep it real with you - if you gave birth vaginally, your vagina, perineum and rectum are going to feel wounded, sore and in need of some serious TLC during your postpartum recovery. The severity of the aftermath will depend mostly on your birth experience.
So for example a longer postpartum recovery should be expected if you pushed for several hours, experienced tearing and received stitches. Expect a shorter postpartum recovery if you’ve pushed for 30 minutes with some grazing and your perineum intact. And if you've had a cesarean you may still be pretty sore down there if you’ve done some pushing beforehand.
Regardless of your birth experience, your postpartum recovery can be a tough time. The beautiful strength we demonstrate by pushing a human out of us, can definitely cause degrees of discomfort. There will be pain to some degree and simple things you may have taken for granted (like taking a pee) will seem really daunting.
Expect heavy blood loss especially in the first few weeks, add sleep deprivation to the mix and sore nipples from nursing...and it can be a long road to recovery. So with all that said, here's a quick guide with some tips that we wished we’d known about. What to expect during your postpartum recovery...
You will have postpartum bleeding after birth. This is called lochia and it contains blood, mucus, and uterine tissue, and can last up to six weeks after delivery. It’s normal to have a heavy flow of bright red blood in the beginning that can be like a really heavy period and you will need an abundance of super absorbent maternity pads.
Let your doctor know if you’re soaking through more than a pad an hour or passing blood clots bigger than the size of a plum tomato. The discharge will gradually taper off and can vary in color, from red, pink, brown, yellow to white. There might be a slight odor, but it shouldn’t be foul-smelling, if you start getting a pungent scent or a fever call your GP immediately as these may be signs of an infection.
Perineal swelling and soreness
Swelling and soreness of the perineum (the area including your vagina and anus) is all part of the deal for postpartum recovery after a vaginal delivery. This is because there is a huge increase in blood flow and fluid in the area. Not to mention that the perineum stretches during labor and delivery, especially as we bear down to accommodate our baby.
So even if you do not experience tearing, or have any visible signs of damage to the perineum you will still feel some discomfort. Tearing or having an episiotomy can also lead to greater blood flow and swelling.
The good news is that the pain reduces gradually as time progresses and the more you rest. In 4 to 6 weeks your perineum should have healed and feel more comfortable although it may be longer if you experienced severe tearing. Stitches from vaginal tearing or an episiotomy will be sore at first and perhaps a little tight and itchy, and usually dissolve within 7 to 10 days.
Using the toilet after giving birth
The tissue surrounding your bladder and urethra may be swollen or bruised, which can make peeing really uncomfortable for the first few days/weeks. The ‘first pee’ is often met with such fear as you don’t expect your vagina to do any further work so soon!
As a heads up, if you experience grazing or tears there will be a stinging sensation due to the acidic nature of urine. Squirting warm water over the perineum whilst urinating may ease the pain by diluting the urine. It should take the edge off, and most importantly staying well hydrated.
It’s not uncommon to experience a blockage, by that we are referring to constipation. Constipation can be caused if you’ve been taking iron supplements or not drinking enough fluids and become dehydrated. Be sure to drink plenty of water and eat high-fiber foods, and let your doctor know if you haven’t had a bowel movement in two to three days. Having some stool softeners handy isn’t a bad idea either.
Many women struggle with urinary incontinence during their postpartum recovery. During pregnancy, the pressure from the uterus can change the angle of the urethra which can cause loss of urine. This can be made worse during delivery if the pelvic nerves is compressed which can weaken the pelvic floor muscles, which help control the bladder.
So a little leakage when you cough, sneeze, laugh or lift heavy objects is quite normal. As your body heals, urinary incontinence should resolve itself, usually by the six-week mark. Do speak to your gp if your think that it's becoming a serious issue as you know your body best.
Such a pain in the a***!
Even if you managed to avoid hemorrhoids during pregnancy, the strain of pushing during delivery may lead to a swollen vein in or around the anus. Hemorrhoids can be itchy and painful but should shrink within six weeks after birth (although they may never completely go away).
Contractions (or Afterpains)
Did you know that after you give birth you will continue to feel your uterus contracting? It certainly took us by surprise! You will more than likely experience period-like cramps or contractions, called afterpains for a few days after delivery especially when breastfeeding. This is basically your uterus beginning to shrink back to its normal size and shape.