Recovering from a vaginal delivery
Just when you thought all the action was over!
For four to six weeks following a vaginal delivery, your body will go through a lot of changes and need time to rest and heal.
Your body has just been through a truly momentous event. Here’s what you can expect when recovering from a vaginal delivery.
Contractions known as “after pains” occur for several days after the birth as your uterus starts to shrink. It can take six to eight weeks for your uterus to return to its pre-pregnancy size. Some women notice that their after pains are particularly strong while breastfeeding, this is because the release of the hormone oxytocin during breastfeeding actually causes the uterus to contract. If the contractions are painful, an over-the-counter pain reliever can help.
2. Muscle soreness
They don’t call it ‘labor’ because it’s a walk in the park! Even the best prepared, calm and uncomplicated labor is work for the mom (and baby). You might find in the days after giving birth that you have muscle soreness in areas where you worked particularly hard or strained during labor. Some women experience soreness in their shoulders, back or neck from tension during during birth, or even in your forehead immediately after birth. With rest and time and some gentle massage from your partner or a physiotherapist this soreness will likely go, though sometimes women actually are injured in the course of childbirth. Talk to your doctor if you have persistent discomfort days after giving birth, particularly in your coccyx or lower back. If you have an epidural you may also experience tenderness at the site of the epidural for a few days post-labor. If your lower back feels a bit bruised and tender try taking care of it with a covered heat pack
3. Bleeding and discharge (lochia)
Lochia can last up to four weeks after giving birth, and in certain cases it can come and go for a couple of months. It starts as bright red blood and gradually becomes pink or brown, and then yellow or white. Use pads rather than tampons until lochia disappears. Talk to your doctor if your lochia is heavy, has a foul smell or lasts longer than four weeks.
4. Vaginal soreness
It’s normal to experience some vaginal pain or discomfort for several days or weeks, particularly if you had an episiotomy or vaginal tear. You can ease the pain with an ice pack or pain relievers, or by sitting on a pillow or an inflatable ring cushion. Earth Mama Bottom Balm and New Mama Bottom Spray can also help relieve soreness in the initial days and weeks. Avoid having sex until you’re fully healed after about four to six weeks.
If you had stitches during a vaginal delivery you will also need to take care to keep your stitches clean and dry. Change your pads often, avoid straining when you go to the toilet (see below on bowel problems and staying hydrated) and, although you may think you can’t even feel your pelvic floor muscles at this time, try and do your kegels. Keeping your vaginal area clean and dry and maintaining blood flow to the area (by doing your kegels) will help you heal. On the other hand; rest! Lie down, lying on your side will provide more relief to a sore pelvic floor than lying on your back. Showering daily will help keep your stitches clean and be sure to dry yourself thoroughly but gently by patting the area, your stitches will heal faster if they are kept dry.
6. Hemorrhoids and bowel problems
Hemorrhoids – swollen veins in the anus – aren’t uncommon after all that pushing. Relieve the pain with a warm bath or a topical natural hemorrhoid cream. Bowel movements might hurt any perineal injuries you have, so keep your stools soft by eating foods that are high in fiber. Similarly, constipation may cause you more pain, so be sure to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water regularly (especially if breastfeeding). If you are unable to control your bowel movements (fecal incontinence), talk to your doctor.
7. Urinary problems
You might have trouble urinating if the tissues around your bladder and urethra were bruised during the birth. During urination you can pour lukewarm water over your vulva to avoid the sting your urine causes on your vaginal injuries. You can also rinse yourself using a squeeze bottle with cool water afterward. These problems should improve on their own. If your pelvic floor was weakened, you might leak urine when you laugh or sneeze. Talk to your doctor about how to do Kegel exercises to strengthen the area.
8. Breast engorgement and leaking
When your milk comes in two to five days after giving birth, your breasts might feel uncomfortably swollen. Breastfeeding regularly can ease the pain, and hot showers, warm compresses or ice packs may also help. If you’re bottle feeding, wear a supportive bra to help stop the production of milk. Place breast pads in your bra to avoid embarrassing wet spots on your shirt caused by leaking milk.
If you have any concerns, see your doctor or bring them up during the six-week postpartum checkup.