We have teamed up with the midwives at My Expert Midwife, experts in all things pregnancy, birth and new motherhood, to bring you some hints and tips on what to expect, and how to look after yourself after birth, whether you have a had a vaginal or caesarean birth.
If you have had a vaginal birth:
Soreness around the perineal area (vulva, vagina, anus) after a vaginal birth is extremely common, whether you have a tear and/or any stitches in this area.
After a vaginal birth your body can often recover quickly, but you may still have some soreness for a few days or weeks, even if you didn’t need any stitches. Start by making sure you are always in a position that makes you feel relaxed, as sitting in a very upright position could become quite uncomfortable after a while. Here are some tips to make things feel a little comfier:
- Remember to take regular pain relief that you’ve been prescribed or bought over the counter- this will help to relieve any soreness and keep you more comfortable.
- Find a position that is comfortable for you, especially if breastfeeding for long periods. A side lying position is often good and will relieve any pressure if you have stitches.
- Keep the area where you’ve had stitches very clean by bathing or showering at least twice a day, as this will minimise the risk of infection.
- Change your sanitary pads very regularly, at least every four hours as this reduces the likelihood of getting an infection in the area.
- My Expert Midwife Spritz for Bits is developed to help provide some relief from perineal soreness and contains natural essential oils including lavender to soothe, tea tree oil for it’s antibacterial properties, witch hazel to promote healing, to help soothe discomfort.
- You can also use My Expert Midwife Soak for Bits which is developed to use in those first few days and weeks after childbirth, to aid recovery. It contains premium Epson salts to relax tired muscles, tea tree and calendula for their anti-inflammatory properties, bergamot to soothe and relax, and arnica to help reduce bruising
- Wash your hands before and after going to the toilet to limit the spread of bacteria.
- If you feel as though the area is becoming sorer as each day goes by, has an unusual smell, is oozing or becoming more swollen, make sure you contact your public health nurse or doctor. If it is becoming infected you may need some antibiotics.
- Think about starting to practice your pelvic floor exercises as soon as you feel able to. This will help you feel more in control of your bladder and bowel, both now and in later life.
- Eat healthily (plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables etc) and drink plenty of fluids to help your body heal from any wounds such as an episiotomy or tear.
If you have had a caesarean birth:
Having a caesarean section could take longer to recover from than you might think as it is major surgery. Knowing how to take care of yourself and address any warning signs can improve your postnatal experience and optimise your recovery.
During your caesarean section operation, the large stomach muscle that has supported your abdomen has been weakened so you’ll need to take extra care when moving about and lifting things.
What can I expect during my recovery?
- Take it easy, your body needs time to mend, so it needs rest and to have plenty of nourishment to do this. Eat healthily and arrange for help with normal day to day things, by asking your partner, family, older children, friends or hired help for extra assistance with daily chores and life.
- Avoiding lifting heavy objects – again, as the stomach muscles have been significantly weakened, you may cause future back and abdominal muscle problems by lifting anything too heavy.
- You wont be able to drive for a period of time, check your insurance policy to see what they specify, but don’t drive if you feel your body isn’t healed enough to react as it normally would.
What happens with my dressing?
Your dressing helps to protect the healing environment of your wound, so don’t be tempted to remove it until the day you were advised to. Once your dressing has been removed you should be able to clean and dry the area as normal and baths or showers are advised daily to help keep the area free from infection.
Will my stitches need to be removed?
Most wounds are closed using dissolvable stitches so they shouldn’t need to be removed. Occasionally staples are used, or single stitches and they are usually removed around 7 days after your operation.
What problems can I expect?
Pain – A certain amount of pain is to be expected, but this can usually be controlled by pain killing tablets that your midwife or doctor will have given you. If you notice that your pain is increasing speak with your public health nurse or doctor straightaway; you may need a course of antibiotics.
Poor abdominal strength – This is caused by the weakness of abdominal muscles which were moved during your caesarean section operation. You should avoid using your stomach muscles to sit up, instead roll onto your side and walk your arms to sit up or use your arms to push yourself up. A physiotherapist can guide you to the appropriate types of exercises to strengthen this area. Ask your public health nurse or doctor during your recovery when it is advisable to start exercising and which types are best to begin with, as everyone’s recovery is individual.
Wound infection – We know this isn’t a nice subject but understanding about wound infections and how to recognise when you may have the start of an infection can be invaluable to your recovery. They are more common than you think so don’t be embarrassed about it. Wound infections can be treated relatively easily, provided they are caught early, but you don’t always see the infection.
Here’s what to look out for:
- Any oozing of fluid from the wound, be it blood or yellow fluid, and especially if it smells, this should be assessed straightaway so contact your public health nurse or doctor.
- Any increase in pain. Pain is your body’s way of alerting you to a problem, so although pain is to be expected with surgery, it should, in general, be on the decrease not the increase as each day goes by.
- An increase in bleeding may be normal, especially during breastfeeding or if you’ve overdone things a little, but bleeding which is soaking through pads or with large clots in it isn’t normal. Contact your public health nurse or doctor if you have any concerns over bleeding.
- Smells, redness and irritation on the skin which is increasing needs investigating, so contact your public health nurse or doctor.
Allowing yourself time to heal and recover after childbirth is not often talked about in detail. We can sometimes expect to be up and about and resuming normal life just a few days after giving birth, but this can be both physically and mentally detrimental when trying to adjust to life with a newborn family member. Resting is essential to optimise the recovery process, so try to engage any help you can from your partner, family, older children and friends to help out during this period.