I’m still 4 months away from being postpartum again, but healing after birth is already something I’m preparing for.
Postpartum recovery and healing postpartum the last time I had a baby really threw me for a loop. This time I’ll be far more prepared.
I started seeing a pelvic floor occupational therapist a few weeks ago (and I’m excited to write in more detail about that later – because I think pelvic floor health is something that EVERY mamma should know about). So I’ll be doing all the exercising and carefully preparing as much as possible pre-birth… but I know, regardless of what I do, there’ll still be a fair amount of unpleasant-ness that comes with healing after vaginal birth.
I mean, you’re squeezing a watermelon out of a nostril here – maybe it’s like a stretchy nostril, but it’s unrealistic to think you’ll be running through babies’r’us in your jeans the next day.
Fortunately, this time I have a better idea of what to expect, and I know a little more about how to make sure I am healing postpartum as fast as possible.
Also, make SURE you’ve checked everything off the Ultimate Third Trimester to-do list.
Related: A realistic hospital bag checklist
These vaginal birth recovery tips will REALLY take you a long way towards healing after birth
Regardless of if you have stitches or not, things will be sore down there. (Stitches make everything a little MORE sore, and require extra healing time, but you’ll still want to have this list of tips handy even if you DON’T need stitches. I was stitched up 36 hours AFTER my son was born, and that did make it worse. I was already peeing mostly pain-free pre-stitching, and post-stitching I was in terrible pain for about 10 days. I did finally learn how to pee without crying postpartum, however.)
For more on what to expect after vaginal delivery => Things Totally Shocked Me About Postpartum Recovery
(THIS POST PROBABLY CONTAINS AFFILIATE LINKS. OUR FULL DISCLOSURE POLICY IS REALLY BORING, BUT YOU CAN FIND IT HERE.)
To speed vaginal healing postpartum and stay as comfortable as possible, consider the following:
1 ) Big, CHEAP pads and breathable underwear, changed OFTEN –
I know it might seem like we should use unbleached organic cotton pads (like this) – and in a perfect world we probably should… but to prevent infection (and stay comfortable), changing your pad OFTEN is important. I personally can’t bring myself to spend double on something that I’ll throw away after a couple hours of use, so I opt for the cheapies. That way I can use as many as I freaking like without feeling guilty about it. This was what the hospital had, and it’s what I’ll be stocking up on again because they were by far the most absorbent pads I tried. (Absorbent is important, because wet + warm is just a breeding ground for bacteria.)
The other thing I quickly realized is that those giant mesh underwear aren’t only great for holding those diaper-pads in place, but they are BREATHABLE. As in, less sweat. Believe me, less sweat = more comfortable + less itchy too. The hospitals here are getting stingy with those big mesh panties, and I’m grabbing an extra package of these from Amazon this time. (Last time I did nab 3 pairs from hospital, and I washed them a few times and reused them.)
2) Pad-sicles + painkillers –
These things might not seem like they actually SPEED healing, and in reality it’s possible that inflammation protects the wound site against infection and is a natural mechanism administered by the body, but, it can cause tissue damage if it persists too long. So, doing a few things to decrease inflammation and reduce pain is a good idea.
Plus, a nurse friend told me that if you’re in terrible pain, your body tends to expend energy trying to deal with the pain, rather than heal. I thought that was pretty interesting, and it sure does make sense!
Those big cheap pads are also great for making ice packs.
I was SUPER hesitant about trying this… and when the nurse came in with one a few hours after squish was born I almost said no. But after I tried it I was SO GLAD I did! Just unwrap them, soak them and put ’em in the freezer.
Motrin or Advil will also help with swelling, but note that ibuprofen should NOT be taken on an empty stomach. IF you’re not eating a meal, stick to Tylenol. (I learned this from my friend Hilary, who is a Labor and Deliver nurse… who also runs an awesome online Prenatal Class.)
3) Sitz baths –
As soon as the dr or midwife okays them, sitz baths are GREAT for speeding postpartum healing, and for keeping you comfortable. There are a few things to keep in mind with sitz baths, you can read here about how to take an effective and safe postpartum sitz bath.
4) Stool softeners –
You’re likely nervous about your first trip to the potty after giving birth, and that’s normal – not to scare you MORE, but straining is obviously gonna be hard on tears or stitches. Take the stool softeners they’ll offer you at the hospital.
If you have stitches, pick up extra stool softeners on the way home and take them for the first week. (If you don’t have stitches or damage, you’re likely ok after a few days.)
5) AND POSITIONING when you poop –
Something important that no one ever mentions is POSITIONING when you go to the bathroom.
Now, just to get a little TMI here, pooping in a squatting position is WAY easier on your body and will almost always require less straining than pooping in our normal cultural position of sitting. Squatting lines everything UP and makes it easier to get everything OUT.
I’ve already ordered one of these to have on hand for bathroom trips during the postpartum recovery period.
5) A healing ointment –
You’ll read a lot about numbing sprays, and I’m sure those are nice. I do plan to get a can of this stuff this time, mostly just for when I need to pee. (That’s the thing that was by far the worst for me last time.) BUT, all the numbing spray in the world won’t SPEED POSTPARTUM HEALING.
I used this amazing gel last time for faster healing of stiches. It’s a silver gel, and silver is known to kill a wide range of bacteria and viruses, including the very dangerous E. coli and Staphylococcus. I like that it’s natural, and I’m not exposing my body to extra chemicals while I’m breastfeeding (or just in general), but I also like that it WORKS. We’ve used this gel for years at my place, and it’s especially effective for relieving pain from burns. (It also works great for hemorrhoids! You may want something for them, too.)
I’m also buying this spray, this time (I meant to get a postpartum numbing spray last time but babe came early), as it has lavender in it… which is also very healing. I used lavender in my sitz baths last time and it was awesome.
I also applied neem oil every time I went to the bathroom. I purchase my neem oil directly from my natural doctor… and I don’t feel comfortable recommending one I haven’t tried. But do research neem yourself, because it is VERY healing.
6) A Peri-bottle –
Full disclosure, I HATED this thing and using it was incredibly painful, but it’s almost non-optional for postpartum vaginal care.
Every time you pee, you need to rinse. This allows you to skip wiping, but it also cleans everything up and helps prevent irritation and infection. (Many women LIKE their peri-bottles and don’t find them painful at all, so don’t let me scare you here.) Most hospitals will provide you with one, but you can also grab one here.
(It’s also nice to have one in each bathroom. I got tired of sitting there waiting for my husband to deliver it… from the other bathroom.)
7) DRINK WATER –
It’s easy to “forget” with everything your body has just been through and the amazement of having your baby here – just how important it is to drink water.
Every cell in your body will be crying out for water… you’ve lost blood and you’re making milk. Give your body as much water as you possibly can!
8) Loose clothing –
Even if you’re feeling good, tight fighting clothes still aren’t a great idea. You want to maintain healthy blood flow and keep as little pressure as possible on the whole area.
Make this an excuse to wear sweats for the next three weeks.
9) Hands off –
Other than to carefully apply healing creams or oils, don’t touch! (And if you are applying anything, wash your hands WELL prior.) Don’t “wash” yourself – it might be tempting (because, let’s face it, you’re icky). Just swish water (while in your sitz bath) around the area, and pat dry.
10) Have your stitches OUT –
This might seem like contrary advice, but really, as soon as the dr / midwife thinks it’s safe, get those stitches OUT.
Perineum stitches are often made to dissolve these days, but sometimes dissolving can take up to two weeks (or longer). If your stitches dissolve before a week – consider yourself LUCKY! Most tears won’t require more than a few days to start healing (as long as you’re not overly active) and having the knots rubbing around down there can be terribly irritating.
I requested that my dr take my stitches out at our one week checkup, and everything got SO much better so quickly. Within minutes actually. Not waiting around for them to dissolve was a really great decision.
11) Continue taking your prenatal vitamins –
Vitamins A, B, C, and E, (1) as well as copper, and iron (2) are essential to helping wounds heal. It’s great that you’ve likely been taking these for the duration of your pregnancy (in your prenatal vitamin) and you should CONTINUE taking them.
I am a BIG believer that not all vitamins are made equal, and I believe that there is a bunch of filler + synthetics in lots of the cheap ones. These are the prenatal / postnatal vitamins that I take, this is the brand that our natural doctor recommends (and we can actually see health benefits when taking any of their supplements).
10) REST (and avoid pressure) –
Too much movement can increase bleeding, and that’s not good. Too much movement can also put unnecessary strain on stitches or tears. You’ll feel ten times better if you just rest.
Try not to do too much sitting on hard surfaces tho – remember, we don’t want pressure on stitches / swollen areas!
(Speaking of rest, I bet you’re in the can’t sleep AT ALL stage…or about to be in that stage! You can grab a pregnancy pillow right now for 50$ off with the code mommyonpurpose50. You’ll be glad you did!)
Postpartum healing is one of those things that we dread having to go through, but in reality, the horrible parts are often blurred out by the joy of having our new baby… and of generally NOT being pregnant anymore – right!?
(I mean, WINE! Yes, I am totally one of those women who believes one glass of wine while you are breastfeeding is FINE. Maybe even one and a half. So, bonus tip, to heal faster after delivery, RELAX and have a glass of wine.
“If a 150-pound nursing mom downs four alcoholic drinks—say, four 5-ounce glasses of table wine—and then breast-feeds her 13-pound baby 4 ounces of milk when she’s at her tipsiest, her baby will end up with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.0038 percent—the same blood alcohol concentration her mom would have after consuming a mere 1.5 ounces of Bud Light (one-eighth of a 12-ounce bottle).” –read more here.)
Though, I guess I should mention that alcohol will cause you to heal SLOWER (in general) so really, do keep it to one glass.
OK that was off topic.
There is also a WHOLE BUNCH of stuff besides healing to consider, so head over here – The best postpartum advice you’ll ever get.