It’s scary how few women know how to care for a perineal tear or episiotomy caused by birth. Because it could happen to you, and knowledge is power, right?!
In case these terms are new to you, let me explain exactly what they mean. During a vaginal birth, your vagina and pelvic floor need to stretch to accommodate your baby’s head. In some cases, the perineum can’t stretch enough, so it naturally tears to create more space for your baby. A perineal tear is graded between 1-4 depending on its severity. An episiotomy is when your Obstetrician cuts the perineum to enlarge your vagina opening. A tear (greater than grade 1) and episiotomy involves both skin and muscle tissue, so will be stitched together after your baby is born.
Not all vaginal births will end in a perineal tear or episiotomy, and it’s important to do what you can in the lead up to birth to help prevent this from occurring. To find out how to best prepare for your childbirth click here.
How to Care for Your Perineal Tear or Episiotomy:
1. Know the Details of Your Labour
Often there is so much going on during the birth of your baby, combined with a lack of education around the topic, that women don’t know to ask the details of their birth. So make sure you find out:
– If you had a tear and if so, where is it and what grade is it.
– If you had an episiotomy.
– If they used forceps or suction.
2. Personal Hygiene
Make sure you keep the area clean and dry.
– Wash your perineal area with water (no soap) and gently pat yourself dry after a shower.
– After urinating pat the area from front to back with toilet paper.
– Avoid rubbing the area.
– Wash the area with water after you use your bowels.
– Change your sanitary pad every 4-6 hours.
– Do not use any other products, creams or gels on the wound.
3. Ice and Compression
The area is likely to be inflamed and swollen, so ice and compression will help to reduce this and provide pain relief. A good idea is asking the nursing staff to put some of your maternity pads in the freezer. Put the pad inside a supportive pair of underpants to provide some comfortable compression.
Ice is in particularly important intermittently in the first 48 hours after birth, but you can continue to use it when you go home if it helps.
Once you are able, you can also wear a compression garment, such as SRC recovery shorts to provide your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles support.
4. Pain Relief
Your doctor should prescribe you with pain relief when you leave hospital. Make sure you take it if you are in pain.
Often a perineal tear or episiotomy can be accompanied by a feeling of vaginal heaviness or discomfort. Resting in the first week after birth is really important to alleviate gravity from adding extra downward pressure on your pelvic floor. Making sure you are spend time lying flat, resting and sleeping will encourage healing of the area.
– Rolling to one side to get out bed instead of sitting straight up.
– Avoid lifting your suitcase or other children.
7. Start Gentle Pelvic Floor Contractions It is safe to start gently contracting your pelvic floor the day after you have given birth. This encourages circulation and helps to reduce swelling. Focus on gently lifting the pelvic floor and then releasing the muscle completely. It’s important not to overdo it, but instead do about 4-5 pelvic floor contractions throughout the day. A good time to do this is when you are breastfeeding your baby. Don’t worry if initially you can’t feel much (if any) lift of your pelvic floor, as this will likely come back in time. The important thing is that you are starting to fire up the neural pathways to the muscle, and your sensation of this area should improve over days and weeks. 8. Avoid Constipation/Straining In order to promote healing of your pelvic floor, we need to make sure you do not strain when you use your bowels. Ensure you keep your diet high in wholefoods, especially fruit and veggies, and drink 2-3L of water. This may involve your partner or family bringing healthy meals into hospital to ensure you are getting adequate nutrients and fibre, as we all know that hospital food can be less than desirable! It’s a good idea to use a laxative in these early days after childbirth, to soften your bowel motion and prevent straining. Your nurse should provide you with a laxative, or otherwise ask. If you are prone to constipation, continue using the laxative when you get home. The way you sit on the loo will also help you to avoid straining. Click here to learn how. You should only be discharged home after you have comfortably emptied your bowels. 9. Support your Perineum Manually supporting your perineum can help you to feel more comfortable when using your bowels. To do so, fold some toilet paper over and place this on your vaginal area/perineum, supporting it with your hand. You may also want to support the area with your hand when you sneeze, cough or laugh. 10. Reconnect to your Vagina It is common for women to disconnect from their vagina after a perineal tear, episiotomy or a traumatic birth, as the area feels different/strange/uncomfortable and they don’t feel themselves. It’s really important to recognise that your body had just achieved the amazing feat of giving birth, and your vagina is not meant to bounce back and feel “normal” straight away. Disassociating or ignoring your downstairs area will only contribute to dysfunction down the track. So instead, know that your vagina is likely to feel or look different after birth, and this is OKAY! Know that your pelvic floor is currently healing, and just like any other muscle after an injury, it needs time to heal. The ability of your pelvic floor to heal and recover will increase by the amount of TLC you give it.
It’s important for both you and your partner to recognise that sex may feel different for you initially, and this is okay. In saying this, it should NOT feel painful, and you should stop if you feel any pain. My advice is to create a relaxing, romantic environment and start with foreplay. All going well, you can progress into intercourse. I also recommend using a natural lubricant like sylk or olive oil, as vaginal dryness is common when you are breastfeeding, and this may contribute to some discomfort. If you do experience pain, then continue the self-massage and breathing explained above, and book in to see your Women’s Health Physio ASAP!
Adopting the above strategies post-birth will be a game changer for your pelvic floor recovery!
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