Are you worried about whether or not ‘down there’ will ever feel normal again? Don’t worry, you aren’t alone. Having a baby can cause a lot of changes and it might take time to feel normal again.
During birth, the body releases a number of hormones designed to dilate the cervix, stimulate contractions, widen the pelvis, and cause your tissue to become more stretchy. In particular, the muscles and tissue of the birth canal (vagina) and perineum need to stretch to accommodate your baby’s head. When you push, this is part of what you are pushing through. Many people refer to the feeling of stretching as the “ring of fire”.
How you recover will, in part, depend on what happened during your birth. If you tore or required an episiotomy, your recovery may take longer. If your tear occurred somewhere other than your perineum, such as your labia, your recovery will also look different.The good news is that things will go back to normal in time.
Here are some tips for vaginal recovery immediately after birth:
Ice packs can feel good, especially in the first 48 hours. It can help to reduce swelling and ease immediate discomfort.
A warm pack can also feel good on your perineum. Just as heat feels good on a strained muscle, your pelvic floor muscles had quite the workout during birth! Heat can help the muscles to relax and increase blood flow to the area which can promote healing.
Some people find that sitting on a pillow or a donut ring is more comfortable. This is especially true for those who have stitches.
This is not the most common option here in Toronto, but some hospitals do have small bottles of lidocaine spray that you can put on your stitches and perineum to help with the pain. Lidocaine spray provides mild numbing to the area it is applied to.
As time goes on, your stitches will dissolve and you will feel less uncomfortable. If you are breastfeeding, you might find that you continue to feel dry, this is due to the hormones associated with breastmilk production. There are a few things you can do long term to ease any lingering discomfort or concerns.
Try not to go back to high impact exercise as soon as you are six weeks postpartum. You may be cleared medically to hit the gym, but your body may not be ready to go all out. Ease back into exercise with low impact options such as yoga, walking, or swimming.
If you are experiencing vaginal dryness, there are water based feminine moisturizers that are designed for use in the vagina. A small amount of water based lubricant can also help.
Seriously, use a small mirror and look at your vulva and vagina. I promise that whatever you are picturing in your head is far worse than the reality. Seeing that things look more or less the same may help you overcome a psychological concern that there is something wrong ‘down there’.
Don’t let anyone tell you it is “normal”.
If you experience persistent, prolonged, pain and discomfort, there may be additional factors at play. While rare, severe tears, instrumental delivery, episiotomies, difficult labours, or other factors can cause injury to your pelvic floor and perineum that contribute to long term issues. If that is the case for you, it does not mean you are doomed to be uncomfortable forever.
The most effective postpartum treatment for persistent pain is pelvic floor physiotherapy. Just as you would see a physiotherapist for a sports injury, a pelvic floor physiotherapist can help you rehabilitate your ‘down there’ and get back to feeling normal.