I truly believe women need to be prepared for what happens to OUR bodies – in particular our vaginas after birth. I am writing this blog from the angle of delivering vaginally but I will write one for the mamas who have also delivered their babies via c secction (how ever some women have had to go part way through labour and end up having a section so this can still apply to you) If you gave birth vaginally, your vagina (Vagina meaning the internal tissue and the Vulva being the external tissue but we will refer to the whole area as the vagina for this blog) perineum and rectum are going to need much care and attention.
Your recovery is completely dependent on your delivery. There are so many variables but regardless of your labour you still need to look after your vagina and surrounding areas post birth. If you tore or had an episiotomy then you will also have stitches (internal and/or external) and scar tissue to look after as well. The postpartum period can be incredibly tough. I had a second degree tear during my first labour and was incredibly uncomfortable for 3 weeks after the birth of my son – I wasn’t able to sit without feeling the stitches pulling. With my Daughter I had a very bruised coccyx for months, on top of having stitches and again finding comfortable positions to sit in and feed was a real challenge. I wasn’t prepared for the intensity of the post birth contractions (when you uterus begins to shrink back to its normal size -AKA afterpains) after the birth of Rose. Discomfort, bleeding and no sleep are a tough combination. Regardless of the beauty of birth, afterward our bodies are reeling from a huge physical ordeal – our vagina’s have stretched enough to allow our baby to be delivered! So here are some of the things that you can expect after you have had your baby and why it is so important not to rush back to exercise!
You can have bleeding (called lochia) for up to 6 weeks (some women can bleed for longer). It’s so important to check and look at your blood flow – paying attention to the amount of loss and tissue that your lose. For me, my blood loss was heavy but for some it ceases within weeks – so finding a quality maternity pad is a must!
Eventually it turns into a kind of discharge which can vary in colour -from red,pink, brown,yellow white and even green! You may detect an odour but it shouldn’t be foul smelling. Again it is so important to pay attention to your discharge and if you pick up an off smell this could indicate infection so always speak to your GP/Midwife.
I don’t know about you but I didn’t even LOOK at my vagina after first time I gave birth, but second time around I was much more body aware. I was amazed at the swelling! I was also quick to book a private appointment with a Womens Health Physiotherapist to do a proper post birth internal assessment, check my pelvic floor and all the important areas! General soreness and swelling is normal as child birth is really tough on the vaginal tissue – and if you tore, like me, this can lead to greater blood flow and swelling. Again if you have stitches (like me) and depending on the severity of your tear discomfort can last for a few weeks – how ever if you feel that something IS NOT right make sure you get it seen too.
What about going to the bathroom? It’s not uncommon that shortly after giving birth you may suffer with constipation or have trouble urinating. The bladder is very close to the vagina and tissue around your bladder and urethra may be swollen and bruised BUT it is important to report major discomfort and pain. If you received an epidural this can affect your bowels as it slows down bowel movements. Drinking plenty of water and eating high fiber foods can help to manage these symptoms and they should calm down within in a few days. What if you can’t make it too the bathroom? It is not uncommon for women to experience incontinence shortly after giving birth and this is why restoring function to your pelvic floor and core is so important postpartum as these issues ideally shouldn’t persist 6 weeks after delivery.
You may have avoided haemorrhoids during pregnancy but all the pressure during labour can lead to a swollen vein in or around the anus. They can be itchy and painful but should shrink within 6 weeks after birth but they may never completely go – which is why having good toilet habits and managing constipation is so important.
So here are my tips for your initial post birth recovery (something I cover in the Holistic Core Restore 4th Trimester program)
- Ice! Your vagina after birth will likely suffer with some swelling so applying ice to that area within the first 24 hours can really help! Wrap a clean muslin cloth around some ice cubes and apply gently to help soothe!
- Witch hazel. My midwife gave me this tip and it was so soothing. I put 1-2 capfulls of liquid witch hazel on my maternity pad and it gave me hours of relief.
- Don’t be scared to empty your bowels. I am not going to lie – when I felt the urge to empty my bowels the first time after labour I cried as I couldn’t stand to thought of feeling any pressure in my bottom. It’s so important not to hold it in as your body needs to get back to natural rhythm – again managing constipation and staying hydrated can really help with this.
- You might need some lubrication! Whilst sex can be a long way off, eventually you will want to get back to intimacy (it is important to take your time and only have sex when you feel ready – 6 weeks is the recommended wait time after giving birth) It is normal to be low on estrogen after delivery (and if you are breastfeeding) which can cause a thinning of your vaginal mucus and this can lead to dryness. This of course can make sex a little less comfortable so investing in a quality lubricant can be life saver. I would recommend lubricants made by YES!YES!YES!.
- Begin with gentle kegels. This will help to encourage blood flow to the vaginal and surrounding tissue which will help with healing and it will begin the first stages of your pelvic floor and core recovery.
- Rest. Sleep as much as you can! Don’t feel under pressure to get out and about too soon.