You may be surprised about the physical aspects of recovery from a vaginal birth. Here’s what to expect.
You just birthed your baby—a baby which took around nine months to grow—so be gentle with yourself and don’t expect your body to feel like it did pre-pregnancy any time soon. One area that needs tender care is your vagina and perineum—areas that stretched a lot to allow your baby to enter the world and may torn or been cut. If your provider made a small cut, or incision, in your perineum—the area between your vagina and anus—this is called an episiotomy.
Episiotomies increase the risk of infection and blood loss; an episiotomy can be more extensive than a natural tear. Tears, if small, typically heal faster than episiotomies.
Recovery may take a few weeks. If you had an episiotomy it may feel tender as you walk or sit. Keep your perineal area as clean and dry as possible; change pads every 2-4 hours. Gently pat yourself dry front to back after urinating to decrease infection risk. Get fresh air to your perineum to speed healing. If lying down to breastfeed or nap, take off your underwear and pad for a while.
No two moms recover the same way, and no one knows your body better than you—so listen to those twinges, pains and sore areas—and be gentle and nurturing with yourself after birthing.
Tell your healthcare provider if you experience any of the following in the weeks after a vaginal birth:
- Perineal or vaginal pain or swelling that gets worse, not better, in the first week
- Not able to control your urine or stool
- Pus-like discharge from the tears or episiotomy
- Pain when you resume sexual intercourse
Recover from Birthing
Make a recovery care package! Prepare for your body’s recovery by having these supplies ready at home:
- Common pain relievers—acetaminophen and ibuprofen are safe during breastfeeding
- Period pads from heavy to light until your bleeding ends
- Witch hazel for vaginal pain or hemorrhoids—soak pads in witch hazel and chill them
- Stool softener to help your bowels get moving again post-birth
- Sitz bath for soothing pain
- Squirt bottle—fill with warm water to rinse during and after urinating for comfort
Catherine Ruhl, DNP, CNM is editor of Healthy Mom&Baby and a certified nurse-midwife in Albuquerque, New Mexico.