“A tear down there” is feared by many mums-to-be, but stitches of the perineum are common after childbirth, and usually heal well. Penny Voigt shares 10 ways to care for your stitches and promote comfort and healing.
If you’ve given birth vaginally, you may well have experienced some tearing of the perineum, or possibly needed an episiotomy. Thankfully, most tears are minor, but it’s not uncommon to require stitches following childbirth. And your lead maternity carer will confirm that the deeper the cut or tear, the longer the healing time necessary. There are a number of practical ways you can help the healing process.
1. ICE, ICE, BABY
If you think about it, it’s not that far-fetched: Applying ice wrapped in a towel to painful muscle tissue works for all parts of the body. So using a wrapped ice pack on your swollen, tender perineum, particularly within the first 24 hours following childbirth, can help relieve pain, tenderness, and swelling. Small bags of frozen veggies (peas and corn are great!) can be a lifesaver, or try placing your maternity pad in a sandwich bag inside the freezer for a few hours before use. Just be sure never to place ice or an ice pack directly on your skin – always wrap in a thin towel or face cloth first.
2. TOILET TIME
That first toilet trip following childbirth is memorable for many (and not in a good way). If you’re finding that using the toilet is painful, try some of these tips. Make sure you’re drinking enough fluids to avoid constipation, and don’t hold it in, as the problem will only get bigger! Try urinating in a warm water bath to take the sting out, or press a wad of clean toilet paper or tissues against your perineum when you bear down.
3. SOOTHE AND CLEANSE
The peri bottle (short for perineal cleansing) will soon become your new best friend. These unobtrusive plastic bottles can be bought at the chemist and may not appear to be anything special, but they provide tremendous relief. Fill your peri bottle with warm water just before you go to the toilet and gently squeeze it between your legs, spraying your undercarriage during and after for a cleansing and soothing rinse-off. Instead of wiping dry, pat your stitches using soft, clean toilet paper or tissues.
4. BEWITCHING HERBS
You may be a sceptic when it comes to trying herbal remedies, but there’s no doubt that the soothing qualities in witch hazel bring immediate relief. Consider filling your peri bottle with a mixture of half water, half witch hazel to use every time you urinate or when you need to cool the burn. Or add a few drops to your maternity pad or a compress to help reduce inflammation. Ice packs made of gauze soaked in witch hazel are an excellent combination.
5. EXPOSE YOURSELF
Keeping your stitches clean and dry reduces the chance of infection. That means washing more often than you normally would, changing your maternity pad regularly, and rinsing and patting dry your stitches each time you use the toilet. Wear cool cotton underwear or stock up on disposable mesh maternity panties that allow air flow while still holding
your maternity pad in place.
6. PAD IT UP
On the subject of pads, you can’t beat the good, old-fashioned maternity pad. Maternity pads are longer, softer, and more absorbent than ordinary sanitary pads. Buy two or three packs to start, as you’ll need to change your pad every few hours in those first few days; post-birth vaginal bleeding is typically heavier than your average period, and you should avoid using tampons until you’re completely healed.
7. AND SQUEEZE
Increasing the blood flow to your perineum can help heal bruising. Regular exercise of your pelvic floor muscles not only helps speed up the healing process, it also improves bladder control which can weaken after childbirth. If you’re not entirely sure where your pelvic floor is, try mentally picturing the muscles around your vagina and bottom, then squeeze and tighten, holding these muscles for a few seconds at a time before releasing. Do this a few times each day to strengthen your pelvic floor muscles.
8. SOAK YOUR TROUBLES AWAY
What could be better than soaking your sore bottom in warm water? Try running a shallow bath and soaking three times a day for 20 minutes at a time for the first seven days post-childbirth. The warm water helps relieve discomfort and ensures you keep your stitches clean. Remember to pat your stitches dry after your bath rather than rub them.
9. BLOW-DRY YOUR BOTTOM
Slightly unconventional, yes. But worth a try nonetheless. Blow-drying your vagina with your hair dryer on a low-heat setting for two to three minutes after soaking in the bath not only helps prevent bacteria growth, the warm, dry heat does wonders for a tender, swollen perineum.
10. PUT YOUR FEET UP
You’ve probably already heard it before, but it’s important you find time to rest. Ease yourself into your new routine and take time out to put your feet up. Accept offers of help from family and friends, and allow yourself the time to heal.
RECOVERING FROM C-SECTION STITCHES
If you’ve had a Caesarean section, you’ll need at least 12 weeks to recover from the abdominal surgery. Try some of these tips to help speed up your recovery:
- Avoid putting pressure on your abdominal area as it’s likely to be painful at first.
- Use your hands or a pillow to support your incision when you cough, sneeze, or laugh.
- Get up and move about, but avoid lifting anything heavy.
- Try showering instead of soaking in a bath, at least for the first few weeks after delivery.
- Keep your stitches clean and dry, patting them dry rather than rubbing.
BUMP & baby is New Zealand’s only magazine for pregnancy and early babyhood. Our team of mums and mums-to-be understand what it’s like to be pregnant in this connected age, and that’s why BUMP & Baby online is geared toward what pregnant women and new mums really want to know.