Many new mothers are afraid of what will happen to their vagina after having a baby. Here are some holistic-based tips for vaginal care after birth (and some for before birth, too!).
Will I tear? Will I need stitches? Will sex ever be the same? Will I really start peeing my pants all the time? There’s often a cycle of fear in the modern culture around birth and the physical changes that may occur. Well, I hope to dispel some of those fears and guide you to an empowered and holistic approach to your vaginal care after birth.
The challenges in preparing for postpartum healing
Our culture spends a good deal of time prepping parents for labor and birth with prenatal classes and childbirth education. Unfortunately, many people get side-swiped after delivery with a whole new slew of information regarding how their body is still changing and what to expect postpartum. Luckily we’re beginning to honor this stage more and consider it the 4th trimester. So, let’s jump in on a few basics regarding your vagina and vulva.
What to expect for your vagina and vulva
Yes, tearing does happen in vaginal delivery and it’s pretty standard, especially with first time deliveries. When vaginal tissues tear naturally, they often heal seamlessly and don’t even require sutures. It’s not that big of a deal.
Every once in a while, a few stitches can help out with the healing process, though. Don’t worry, even if you had a completely natural unmedicated delivery, this is your moment to say, “Yes!” to all sorts of lidocaine and numbing medications. Just sit comfy snuggling your newborn while your provider repairs your bottom. You won’t feel a thing!
Are there ways to prevent tearing? There are absolutely some methods that can help.
For one, waiting for a spontaneous urge to push instead of guided-pushing from your provider will help. Your body gives you direct bio-feedback signals to know when and how deep to go with contractions. Often this looks like slowing down pushing as the head of your baby starts to emerge. This slowing down allows time to let your tissues stretch.
However, if having a pain-managed delivery, those signals sometimes get a bit lost, so that guided-pushing might be an excellent option for you! If that’s the case, what else can you do to prevent tearing? Put your hand on your perineum in labor! Sometimes this is a bit much to ask of a laboring person when they are already overwhelmed with body sensations, but it can help. Having your hand feel your tissue stretch can give you a bit more of those bio-feedback signals I mentioned earlier.
Another option is to ask your provider about applying a bit of counter-pressure on your perineum. They can guard your perineum during that pivotal moment with warm or cool compresses. These are great options to discuss with your care provider while pregnant.
The importance of nutrition for vaginal recovery
Prenatally, we also know, having a whole-foods nutritious diet and staying well hydrated is so important. In particular, skin integrity is often a direct correlation to your dietary intake. A healthy omega oil intake can also play a large part in your vaginal tissue health. Be sure to ask your provider what the best blend is for you.
Having a healthy microbiome is also an essential factor. So again, that’s all about nutrition: make sure to eat organic whenever possible and include probiotics daily.
We know that vaginal tissues are a bit more friable and likely to tear, when there’s an off-balance of your vaginal microbiome. Make sure you’re getting all the healthy bacterial strains your vagina desires and speak to your provider about which strains of lactobacillus are best suited for you.
Read next: Your Postpartum Nutrition Guide
Perineal massage + other methods to avoid tearing
There’s also a techiqnue called perineal massage that some pregnant people do to prepare their vaginal tissues for delivery. The evidence on this actually preventing tearing is a bit mixed, so you decide if it’s worth it. Be forewarned that, yes, it’s called “massage”, but it sure isn’t a trip to the day spa.
The technique involves stretching your vaginal tissues to the max and pushing on rectal pressure points. I wouldn’t call it the most relaxing event. However, the concept is based on learning to relax into those painful pressure points. Theoretically, this can enable you to work with your body during pushing, instead of resisting against your body and the wild new sensations.
If perineal massage isn’t your thing, a happy medium might be using nourishing oils topically on your perineum in the third trimester. Generally, the vulva is a self-regulating system and doesn’t need outside products to optimize itself.
In the third trimester, you often see an increase in vaginal discharge as your body begins to flush out and clear that space for your baby to enter through. While we know that skin integrity is first linked to nutrition and hydration, topical treatment might not be necessary, but could still help out.
Moisturizing those tissues is also an excellent way to give your bottom a little love before delivery. It’s about to do a wild thing and deserves some lovely attention. You can apply these oils using a small spray bottle like this one here. You can add them to your routine by spraying after going to the bathroom. Think of it as a vaginal spa treatment.
Again, not a ton of evidence for this technique, but it sure is kind to your vagina. As always, speak to your provider to make sure you are using a vagina-friendly moisturizer. (Nobody wants to get a weird infection right before labor!)
Vaginal care after birth + How to recover from a tear
Let’s say you do all the things: eat well, stay hydrated, use all the oils, undisturbed self-guided pushing, and you still tear. Shoot! First off, it’s okay! It’s just a genetic lottery sometimes. The great thing is, all the prenatal work you did is also going to help your tissues heal faster.
So what’s the best thing to do for your vagina after having a baby? Take it easy and rest. Seriously. Be in bed with your newborn for a few weeks. When you start to get bored, explore the living room as a new hang out. Just take it easy!
Sleep and rest are so restorative for cell regeneration and healing. So if you want to be kind to your body and your vagina, this is the first step. Jumping out of bed and trying to be back at your regular life is just going to slow the process down.
When we say rest and stay home, we mean to stay in bed or reclined as much as possible. The reclined position allows your pelvic floor muscles to have a little break from holding the weight of your organs. Your pelvic floor is often a bit tired after the marathon of pregnancy and labor. Sometimes it’s just standing in the kitchen washing dishes or chatting with the family that will set your recovery back a bit.
Yes, life sometimes gets in the way of this pause, and you need to work or return to activity sooner than we know is best for your body. If that’s the case, set intention towards the relaxing activity. Find ways to remain comfortably seated when working, if possible. Bring extra pillows to work, your favorite blanket, whatever it may be. Now that you’ve got a newborn, sleep is a priority for everyone. Set up a little nook in your office to make that five-minute nap the most glorious ever! Remember, sleep means cell regeneration, which means your bottom healing!
This pelvic rest is so important in regards to vaginal muscle tone, pelvic floor recovery, and bladder control as well. Peezing (peeing when you sneeze) should not be a right of passage into motherhood. A little muscle weakness is totally normal initially, but be sure to follow-up with your provider if things don’t regulate in a few weeks. It’s all about those first few weeks and allowing your body to recover from the wild process it just went through.
How to use postpartum herbal toners
Now let’s talk about perineal sprays. You sprayed nourishing oil on your bottom pre-labor, but post-labor, let’s switch to an herbal toner or spray like this one. Postpartum herbal teas can be brewed and used in a sitz bath (shallow bath to submerge your bottom in) or put in a spray bottle to use over the toilet.
There are all sorts of recipes out there, so find your favorite and check with your provider about when to begin using it. The herbs have calming and healing qualities that can provide so much relief from swelling, bruising, tearing, or sutures.
Fun fact! All of these tips can be used even with a cesarean delivery! Turns out carrying a baby in your body for ten months can still put strain on your vaginal walls and tissues, even if your baby made their entrance into the world through surgery. Your bottom still deserves this kindness!
Be kind to your vagina (and yourself!)
So yes, maybe your body and vagina change a bit after you have a baby. It ought to! You just did the most fantastic thing! That does not mean that after having a baby, you’re not strong, sexy, and a powerhouse of a person. Quite the contrary!
Be kind to your vagina and yourself. Recognize how well your body works and pay it some positive attention! The way our culture fixates on the fear of vaginal change is such a travesty.
The stories you don’t hear as often are the ones about how amazing, powerful, and sexy you can feel after having a baby. Be the one to advocate for your own care and nourishment. Be the one to share your story of a radical transition into parenthood, even if your vagina tore or changed a bit.