Theres no denying that a vaginal birth will leave you sore and swollen. But the reality is rarely as bad as you imagine, and the good news is theres a lot you can do to help the healing process.
Post-birth bleeding, or lochia, normally lasts for around four weeks, becoming light after two. Its a bit like a period for three to five days, then it gradually changes colour, from red to brown to pink, says midwife Sharon Simms, of Tommys, the baby charity. The flow then becomes lighter and may become intermittent. If youre bleeding excessively, its not beginning to change colour or tail off, or if youre losing clots, tell a health professional.
Use maternity pads (not tampons, which could cause an infection) and change them frequently. Stock up on disposable pants for the first couple of weeks after the birth.
Swelling should subside in around five to seven days if you havent torn or had stitches, or seven to ten days if you have. Sitting in a warm bath will help, as can homeopathic remedies from chemists. Arnica soothes bruising and swelling, hypericum reduces discomfort and calendula fights infection, says Dr Caroline Longmore of Galen Naturopathic Centre. You could also try sitting on a cool pack. Wrap a small pack of peas in a clean dishcloth, suggests midwife Sharon. Petits pois are particularly good as theyre smaller and more malleable! Also, remember your pelvic floor exercises. Theyll aid the blood supply to the area, which helps the healing process.
TEARS AND STITCHES
Around one in three first-time mums tear during delivery. Its rare for a tear to require surgery, but you may need stitches. Put a few drops of lavender oil, which is antiseptic and calming, or tea tree oil, which helps to fight infections, into your bath to help heal a tear, says Dr Longmore.
If youve had stitches, chances are youll feel anxious about your first post-birth poo. Your stitches wont burst, says Sharon. But if youre worried, hold a maternity pad against the stitches when youre having a poo, which will give you a bit of support. Sitting forward and rocking can make it easier, too. Dont get concerned if you dont need to go for a couple of days after the birth thats normal but equally, dont put it off, as you could get constipated.
Avoid the sting of weeing by pouring a jug of warm water between your legs when you go.
Piles are common during pregnancy and after the birth. Wed normally expect them to improve after the birth, but it might take up to about six weeks, says Sharon. If they havent improved by the time of your six week postnatal check, tell your GP, who could prescribe some cream.
YOUR SEX LIFE
Theres no right time to have sex after having a baby. Most women are physically healed by six weeks, says Sharon. Some feel they want to have sex before their postnatal check just to make sure everythings in working order, but if you dont feel ready, theres no hurry. Also, remember you dont have to have full sex. You could just cuddle or have non-penetrative sex, so you get back that physical closeness with your partner.
Using a lubricant may make sex more comfortable. Finally, make sure you sort out some contraception, or your baby could have company sooner than you planned!
Your pelvic floor muscles can become weakened during pregnancy, causing post-birth complications such as stress incontinence. Become an expert at pelvic floor exercises before the birth, says midwife Sharon. Ask your midwife to show you how, and try to do six sets a day. Connecting them with something you do frequently, like having a drink or washing your hands, can help.
In the last three months of pregnancy, massaging your perineum the area between the vagina and the anus with sunflower or olive oil increases the elasticity of the area, allowing it to stretch more easily and reducing the risk of tearing.