Did you just give birth, or are preparing to soon? Congratulations!
You’ve just grown a whole human from scratch, rode the waves of labor, and pushed a baby out of your birth canal, aka vagina.
You may be feeling sore, raw, messy, elated, exhausted, blissed-out, frustrated, on an oxytocin high, sleep-deprived, and any combination of the wide range of emotions someone can experience after birth.
Although you’ve made it through pregnancy, labor, and birth, your journey is just getting started.
From the time your baby is born to about three months thereafter, you’re in what’s called “the fourth trimester”. This tender part of the postpartum period is an essential time for healing your newly evolved body.
While healing happens on many different layers, from physical, to emotional, to mental, you’ll also want to think about what steps you’ll take to heal your vagina, vulva, perineum, and anus – aka the actual genital tissues that the human equivalent of watermelon just passed through on their way into the world.
Mothering the Mother
No matter how you’re feeling, everyone needs extra help after they’ve given birth.
The idea of “mothering the mother” is making sure that not only are the birthing parent’s general needs taken care of like being fed, hydrated, and emotionally supported, but that other people are taking care of errands and household duties. Your support team may include a partner, family, friends, a postpartum doula, or any combination of people.
Having other people take care of cooking, walking the dog, and laundry not only allows you to put all your focus on bonding with your baby, but is also imperative for your long term vaginal health and healing.
What to Expect
Knowing what is and isn’t in the range of normal lets you know what to expect after vaginal birth, and any potential red flags.
- Soreness: Your perineum and rectum may feel sore and tender for anywhere from three to six weeks depending on whether or not you required stitches.
- Swelling: Your labia and whole genital area may be swollen for a few days to a few weeks.
- Labia Changes: Your labia may look darker, or have varicose veins after birth.
- Stitches: If you had stitches as a result of an episiotomy or tear, they should heal in seven to ten days. It’s important to clean them with water after you use the bathroom and try not to touch them to avoid infection.
- Hemorrhoids: Are normal after delivery. Try to avoid constipation by not holding it in when you need to poop, eating fibre-filled foods, and taking a gentle laxative or stool softener if necessary.
- Bleeding and Discharge: Called lochia, this is the body’s way of eliminating extra blood and tissue that it used to grow a baby. Your bleeding may be heavier up to ten days postpartum, with spotting and light bleeding lasting up to six weeks postpartum. Some clots are normal, especially in the first week.
Prepare for Vaginal Healing
While you may not be able to predict exactly how your birth is going to go, you can take certain steps and preparations to help support your vaginal healing postpartum.
- Find The Right Provider: If you are able to have your choice of provider, try choosing one that you feel safe and comfortable with. This can make a huge difference in the outcome of your birth, and thus your postpartum healing. You will also want to ask them their policies on episiotomies and pushing procedures.
- Make “Padsicles”: Prepare these before birth by dampening maxi pads with witch hazel and stacking them with foil between them in the freezer. It can help to bend them slightly to line up with the curves of your body. Some people choose to use aloe vera and other healing herbs to soak them in. An ice pack specifically made for your postpartum perineal needs!
- Peri Bottle: Short for perineum bottle, your hospital, birth center or midwife may provide one of these handy squirt bottles. Fill it with ¾ warm water and ¼ witch hazel to use after you go to the bathroom.
- Sitz Bath: This is a warm bath where you only submerge your bum, and possibly up to your hips. This may be infused with healing herbs as well. You can also try heat packs or hot water bottles to help ease discomfort.
- Yoni Steams: Are done by sitting over a pot or bowl of steaming medicinal herbs that are intended for postpartum healing. It is recommended to wait at least thirty days postpartum before steaming.
- Minimize Movement: Your body needs time to heal. This is also important to prevent postpartum hemorrhage. You may want to set up your station downstairs, if your bedroom is upstairs.
- Stay Off of Your Perineum: Avoid standing or sitting for too long in the first few weeks, try to lie on your side, or sit on a pillow if needed.
- Let it Breathe: While you may need adult diapers or period panties for initial bleeding, try to wear loose clothes to let your genitals breathe after birth.
- Numbing: You can use local anesthetics for numbing any perineum pain.
- OTC Painkiller: Like ibuprofen or acetaminophen, be sure to ask your provider first.
- Decrease Risk of Infection: By only using pads or period panties, do not put a tampon or menstrual cup in there for at least the first six weeks postpartum.
Signs You Should Reach Out to Your Provider
- Postpartum Hemorrhage: Tell your doctor if you are filling up more than a pad every hour, as this may be a sign of postpartum hemorrhage.
- Pelvic Prolapse: If you experience excess pressure or pain in your pelvic floor, or difficulty peeing or defecating this may be a sign of pelvic prolapse.
- Clots: While some clots are normal, if they are bigger than a quarter, you should consult your provider.
- Chills and Fever: These are possible signs of postpartum infection.
- Stitches: If your stitches are red, swollen, or have pus it could indicate an infection.
Long Term Healing
Healing after birth takes time, and your body will never return to exactly how it was before, but that’s ok, you just brought another human into the world afterall!
Natasha (she/they) is a full spectrum doula, reproductive health content creator, and sexual wellness consultant. Her work focuses on deconstructing the shame, stigma, and barriers people carry around birth, sex, and beyond, to help people navigate through their lives with more pleasure, softness, and sensuality. You can connect with Natasha on IG @spectrumoflovedoula.