You have burp cloths. You have safety Q-tips. You have 12 brands of diaper rash cream and three newborn-sized bathrobes with matching slippers. Preparing for baby's arrival wasn't so hard... but are you ready for all that other stuff that happens after delivery? (You know, to your vagina. And perineum. And rectum.)
Alright, let's just say it: If you gave birth vaginally, you're going to need some serious TLC down there. But have no fear: We checked in with tons of new moms, and a few of our doctor friends including Dr. Susan Bliss, OB/GYN at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, NC, to bring you an insider's guide to postpartum body care. (You’re welcome.)
The condition of your no-longer-very-private parts -- your vagina, perineum and rectum -- after childbirth depends a lot on your particular birth experience. (Duh.) So if you pushed out an 11-pounder and tore badly, you're going to have a tougher recovery than if baby is smaller and your perineum stayed intact. But genetics can play a part too. (Just be prepared for the fact that an investigation into family history may involve your mom discussing her own hoo-ha.)
Expect lots of bleeding and some general soreness. Wondering how much blood to be prepared for? Dr. Bliss says postpartum bleeding can be compared to a heavy period and may last for a few weeks -- which is why super-absorbent maxi pads (yes, like the kind you wore in junior high) will become your new best friend.
So here's the deal: No matter how long you pushed for, expect some swelling. You can also expect small contractions and occasional gushes of blood, especially when you breastfeed. But don't let this freak you out. "This is a good thing," says Dr. Bliss. It's your uterus shrinking back to its normal size. In addition, you may have some trouble pooping, and you’ll probably spring a few leaks (pee and gas to complement the oozing of milk, sweat and tears farther north). So be on guard.
If you have any stitches from tearing, expect them to first be sore and then a little itchy. Most stitches reabsorb in about three weeks. Later, you’ll have some scar tissue, but chances are you will probably never notice.
What to Do About It
You'll definitely want to cop some freebies from your postpartum recovery room before checking out of the hospital. "Get as many of the hospital pads as possible," urges Bumpie Princessn6. "They're better than anything you can get in the store." Consider stocking up on the hospital's mesh panties too. (Don't be shy -- ask your nurse for extras.) No, they're not sexy, but when you're bleeding for weeks on end, disposable panties rock. And don't forget your peri bottle (a squirt bottle for rinsing). It will keep you feeling clean and also help any stinging that may happen when your pee hits your stitches.
Pack the Ice
"The nurses at the hospital brought me newborn diapers that they had packed with ice. It helped a lot!" says Bumpie Kat28655. According to Dr. Bliss, ice is awesome for swelling prevention in the first 24 hours. Lay off the ice after that, though. Some women mistakenly attempt to treat their swollen labia with cold packs, but it won't help. "The labia is swollen because of excess fluid," says Dr. Bliss. “Ice packs will not help that swelling." So if your labia are swollen, don't worry: They will deflate within a few days.
Soak Your Bum
"I really strongly believe in sitz baths," says Dr. Bliss. "Take one every time you pee or poop for the first week and several times a day for the next week. Be diligent. Set aside those 15 minutes it takes to sit there with your bottom in water."
Witch Hazel It Up
This herbal remedy can bring sweet relief for painful, itchy stitches, and nerve-wracking hemorrhoids. "I've been rolling up those witch hazel pads and sticking them between my [butt] cheeks," says Bumpie taprehoda. "It gives me hours of relief." You can also line your pad with them for maximum coverage. Try spraying on some Dermoplast spray first, and you'll be comfortably numb for a while.
Do Your Kegels
Strengthening your pelvic floor by doing Kegel exercises is a must, according to Dr. Bliss. "This helps maintain urinary continence and function of your anal sphincter." Sounds pretty important to us!
"Don't be scared -- just do it," says Dr. Bliss about pooping after giving birth. "Like I tell my four-year-old, if you hold it in, it just gets bigger." And if you need help, get help. "Mommas, take the stool softener that the hospital offers!" urges Bumpie jwoods6056.
Invest in Some Lube
No, your vagina will never be exactly the same after a vaginal delivery. (There. We said it.) Sex is on the horizon, though. Good sex, even. Still, it will take some time for things to feel totally "normal" again after delivering baby. When you’re ready for sex (and you've held off for the recommended six weeks), go for it. Just don't forget the Astroglide! Here's why: You're low on estrogen after delivery (and while you're breastfeeding), causing a thinning of your "vaginal mucosa" (or vaginal membrane), which can lead to dryness. Altogether, this can make sex, well, hurt. That's why investing in some lube will be a lifesaver.
We think that about covers it. Moms who've been there: What'd we miss? Spill your best post-delivery body tips!
PS: Stay tuned for Part Two of our insider's guide to postpartum care when we give the lowdown on what to expect when recovering from a c-section.
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