After nine months of enduring many physical and emotional changes during pregnancy, you are finally blessed with a baby. Congratulations!
You may have delivered your baby through a vaginal birth or through a C-section; both methods have advantages and disadvantages.
The many physical changes to your body after vaginal birth can be as overwhelming as those during pregnancy. Just as your body needed months to prepare for giving birth, it also takes time to recover and feel like you did before you were pregnant. It is agreed upon by both mothers and clinicians that the preparation time during the antepartum period is beneficial for postpartum recovery.
The first few weeks after vaginal birth is very critical for your body. During this time, your body will try to return to normal and recover from the changes you experienced during your pregnancy, labor, and delivery.
After vaginal birth, it is important to focus on your healing and taking care of your body and your newborn.
Here are the top 10 things about vaginal birth recovery you need to know.
1. Get Proper Rest and Sleep
Looking after a newborn is more than a full-time job, and new mothers often do not give much importance to their own rest and sleep.
Healing after childbirth takes time, but it will occur more quickly with proper rest. Sleep is vital to your overall physical and emotional well-being. Being well rested will also help you handle the additional responsibilities of motherhood.
Fatigue combined with the added stress of taking care of a newborn can contribute to increased depression or anxiety that are normal after having a baby.
It is important to rest whenever possible; recognizing this can be difficult with a newborn to care for. You can get the rest you need by sleeping when your baby sleeps and accepting help from friends and family so you can take short naps.
Come up with an overnight routine, such as having your partner to help with diaper changing while you rest. Any bits of sleep you can get during this time will be beneficial to your body’s healing.
2. Use a Sitz Bath
After giving birth, the uterus starts to shrink back to its regular size, causing at times severe cramping. You may also be experiencing pain while healing from vaginal tears or episiotomies.
Even if you did not have any tears or received sutures, the vulva is likely to be swollen and tender. A sitz bath can be very comforting, helping you to relax as your body heals. In this type of bath, it is advised that the water in the tub should cover only your hips and buttocks.
A sitz bath is often recommended after vaginal tears or an episiotomy. It helps to keep your genital area clean, which is very important in the healthy healing of the tissues. It can also reduce the swelling and soreness you experience after a vaginal birth.
You can use either cold or warm water, although there are studies that claim that cold water provides more relief to the mother after episiotomy or tears than warm water.
Try sitting in a sitz bath filled with cold water up to three times a day and after bowel movements. You can also pour water over the genital area during urination to help with any burning; clean the area afterward.
3. Use Cold Gel Pad or Ice Pack
To reduce the swelling or pain around the opening of your vagina, cold gel pads or ice packs are very helpful. The coldness helps numb the nerves, reducing pain and swelling.
- Apply cold gel pad or ice pack to the perineum for no longer than 20 minutes. You may use gel pads or ice packs several times per day for comfort.
- It is important to have a protective layer of fabric between your skin and the pack to avoid injury to the area.
4. Wear Extra Maxi Pads
Whether you gave birth through vaginal delivery or C-section, some postpartum bleeding is normal. This type of bleeding is called lochia and can last from 2 to 6 weeks after birth.
Using tampons is not recommended during this time, as they can introduce bacteria or cause more damage to your healing tissue. Instead, wear extra maxi pads, using two at a time if needed.
Witch hazel can also be very comforting to use after a vaginal birth. Soak a maxi pad in witch hazel or place already-prepared witch hazel pads on your maxi pad, changing for a fresh one each time you use the restroom. This can help ease discomfort and reduce swelling.
Disposable mesh underwear is very flexible and easily worn to prevent staining your personal clothing with any overflow. These are often provided to you at the hospital you deliver.
5. Do Kegel Exercises
For quick recovery after vaginal birth, it’s important to strengthen your pelvic muscles. This will help heal your perineum (the area between your vagina and rectum), which stretches and sometimes tears during vaginal delivery.
Practice Kegel exercises to strengthen your pelvic muscles 1 to 2 weeks post-delivery. To do this exercise:
- Squeeze the muscles you use to stop the flow of urine.
- Hold for 10 seconds, and then release for 10 seconds.
- Repeat 10 to 15 times.
- Do these Kegel sets 2 or 3 times a day.
Aside from Kegel exercises, you can safely do light exercises such as walking and stretching after a week from delivery.
6. Take Care of Any Stitches
Not all women need stitches after vaginal birth, but if you had tears or an episiotomy, it is likely you need at least a few.
It is important to keep the stitches clean to prevent infection. Most stitches take up to 3 weeks to heal and will dissolve on their own.
- Use a squirt bottle filled with warm water to clean the area after urinating or having a bowel movement.
- Drink enough water to keep your urine well diluted. This will make it less painful while urinating.
- Try using an inflatable ring on the toilet to take the pressure off your bottom when you sit.
7. Handle Hemorrhoids
Some women experience hemorrhoids after delivery, regardless of the method the baby is born. These appear as swollen veins in and around the anus and rectum. Bowel movements may become painful with hemorrhoids.
Some women will avoid having a bowel movement due to the pain of hemorrhoids. Passing constipated stool can cause more damage to any healing episiotomy or tears you may have.
To prevent bowel issues during vaginal birth recovery:
- Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Consume whole grains and foods rich in fiber.
- Drink plenty of water and avoid coffee and carbonated beverages.
- You may need to ask your doctor for a stool softener until your wounds are healed.
- You can also ask your doctor for a topical hemorrhoid cream.
8. Take Care of Breast Soreness
After delivery, your breasts will start to produce the milk your baby needs to get a healthy start in life. Whether you choose to breastfeed or bottle-feed your baby, it is important to know how to take care of your breasts during this phase.
When you are producing milk and your baby is not feeding as much or as often as it needs to, your breasts may become heavy and sore, and you may find it difficult to feed your baby due to engorgement.
- Try to feed your baby or pump often to prevent engorgement and leaking.
- You can hand express milk during or in between feeding your baby for some relief.
- Use a hot compress to relieve engorgement.
- Use ice packs in between feedings to alleviate the pain.
- If your nipples are sore, make sure your baby is latching on properly.
- Wear a nursing bra with good support.
- Use breast pads to prevent milk leakage.
- If you are not breastfeeding your baby, avoid warm water directly on your breasts, and wear fitting (but not restrictive) bras for extra support.
9. Check for Signs of Infection
Any kind of infection can delay the healing process and complicate your recovery.
After vaginal birth, you can develop an infection around your stitches or in your uterus. You may also develop a urinary tract infection or an infection in your breasts called mastitis. All of these conditions can be serious if left untreated.
Signs of infection include:
- Increased pain and a thick yellow or greenish discharge from your vagina.
- A foul or rotten odor coming from your vagina.
- A burning sensation while urinating, a need to urinate more frequently, and a feeling of “urgency.”
- A fever greater than 100.4 °F, feeling achy, or chills.
- Red streaks on your breasts with any signs of fever.
If you notice any of these signs, consult your doctor or midwife immediately.
10. Be Aware of Your Emotions
Women feel emotional after the birth of a baby, and the wide range of what you are feeling can be difficult to handle. It is possible to be extremely happy one moment and then very sad the next.
These mood swings are due to the many hormonal changes going on in your body. The typical responsibilities of caring for a newborn baby can make you feel down, depressed, or anxious. It is normal for you to get the “baby blues,” but this can quickly change into a deeper depression and cause problems for you and your baby.
Approximately 13% of women experience postpartum depression in some form or another. If you continue to feel depressed, excessively sad or anxious, and withdrawn or if you have thoughts of harming yourself or your baby, do not try to hide it. Talk with your family and be sure to inform your doctor or midwife. You may be suffering from postpartum depression, and treatment is available.
- Avoid long trips for 5 to 6 weeks, and do not sit in the car for long periods of time.
- If you need to travel, take frequent breaks and stretch your legs.
- Limit visitors at home, as it can increase exposure to infections.
- Use a pillow over your tummy when coughing or sneezing.
- Don’t go swimming for 6–8 weeks.
- Wait until you are healed (typically 6 weeks) before you have sexual intercourse.
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