Caring For Your Vagina After Childbirth: All You Need to Know

Childbirth, for many women, is a fulfilling, satisfying experience. Howver, it can also be emotioanally overwhelming, and physically rather taxing. Nobody wants to talk about vaginal and perineum tears after childbirth, or even haemorrhoids. But they do happen to most women after labour and delivery.

As a new mother, you have to deal with a lot of pain and discomfort in your vagina, as aslo elsewhere, while aslo caring for a new baby just when your body is very vulnerable.

You may face serious swelling, soreness and the pain due to vaginal tears in your undercarriage. 

It may sound scary. But, knowing why they happen, and how you can tackle them, may prevent you fron being taken by surprise.

Vaginal tears- What exactly are they?

A vaginal tear is a laceration, or a tear, that happens spontaneously in the perineum, or the area between the vagina and anus. These tears occur when you push your baby out during a vaginal birth.

What happens exactly is that the vagina stretches to allow a baby, whose head is the size of a small melon, to come through it.

When the vagina stretches, there is a chance of tears and lacerations.

Unfortunately, the odds of vaginal tearing are pretty high.

If you are a first-time mom, you have a 95 percent chance of experiencing some form of tearing during delivery, as the tissues there are less flexible.

But that’s not all- other factors contribute to your likelihood of lacerations, such as being overweight or having a superfast birth. If you have a quick delivery, the tissues down there have less time to adapt and stretch as the baby comes down.

Another big factor is the position of the baby when she is born. Babies, who come out facing up, for example, put extra pressure on the bottom of the vagina, near the perineum.

Having a vacuum- or forceps-assisted delivery or even an especially long labour that results in severe vaginal swelling also increase the chances of vaginal tearing.

Vaginal tears are not the same as an episiotomy which is an incision made by your doctor to widen your vaginal opening during a natural birth.

The vagina experiences swelling, pain and stiches just like in the case of vaginal tears here, though the damage can be more intense and the healing process longer.

Types of vaginal tears

There are four degrees of vaginal tears. They are all painful but some can be more serious than the others and require several stitches and can affect your anal sphincter which controls pooping too.

The good news is that most common vaginal tears are not the most severe.

  • First-degree tears: The tear is superficial and does not involve muscle and may require a just a few stiches.

  • Second-degree tears: This one is extremely common and it involves the vaginal lining and deeper tissues of your vagina. And predictably, it requires more stitches than the first-degree tear.

  • Third-degree tears: These go well into the deeper layers of the vagina and the muscles that make up the anal sphincter or door.

Your doctor has to take special pains to sew each layer separately, with special attention to closing the muscle layer supporting the anal sphincter.

  • Fourth-degree tears: This tear is deep and extends right through to the lining of the lower part of your digestive tract called rectum. The repair of these tears is a complicated affair and it also mandates a long recovery process.

Generally, third- and fourth-degree tears are more common when vacuum or forceps are used while birthing.

What can you expect?

First- or second-degree tears can cause some discomfort. Like, when you are sitting straight up and using the loo for about a week or so.

Pooping or doing anything that causes an increase of downward pressure, like coughing or sneezing, usually hurt a lot too if you have superficial vaginal tears in the first week.

But by week two, the tear is usually well healed and the stitches have dissolved, though it will take several more weeks for the nerves to heal and the full strength of the muscles to come back.

You can have sex at six weeks but it may still be uncomfortable depending on the location of the tear and the quality of the stitching.

Third- and fourth-degree lacerations take longer to heal- sometimes as long as several months. You will definitely go through two to three weeks of pain. And you will most probably have to wait longer to resume sex as it can be painful.

Going to the loo can be a pain too as the tears here have reached the rectum. These can cause pelvic floor problems, uterus prolapse, urinary problems, constipation, and discomfort during intercourse.

So, how do you tackle the pain used by vaginal tears?

First and foremost, it's important for you to share all of your symptoms with your doctor, no matter how embarrassing they may seem, to start the healing process.

Here are a few other things that you can do at home to make life post-vaginal tears less painful-

  1. Use stool softeners and favour a diet of fibre-rich foods to make pooping bearable.

  2. Cold compresses- Put a cold pack on your sore perineum. You can also sit on an ice pack for ten minutes at a time to alleviate soreness.

  3. Herbal sitz baths- Try sitting in a few inches of warm water or sitz baths three times a day and post pooping. Aim for three ten-minute soaks daily.

  4. Use a squirt bottle filled with warm water to rinse the vaginal area whenever you use the toilet. Just squirt warm water during peeing to stop the burn. After doing the stuff, squirt once again to clean – pat dry and don’t use toilet paper to wipe ever.

  5. Use a pillow to sit on a chair as sitting can cause pain and discomfort.

  6. Over-the counter medicines such as ibuprofen can help too. Better still, ask your doctor to prescribe painkillers.

  7. You can shower as usual but take care to pat the stitches dry and never scratch them ever.

When to call you doctor?

You should call your doctor if the vaginal discomfort, instead of lessening each day becomes more extreme. If your perineum becomes more painful or is bleeding, this is a serious red flag.

Also do consult your doctor if you notice a discharge, a foul odour, redness, or stinging pain when you urinate as these can all indicate an infection.

In the long-term, your stiches for vaginal tears will heal with no side effects but you may still have scar tissue and can occasionally experience numbness or pain during sex. Motherhood is an experience can often defies expression: it is simultaneously one of the most satifying, but also a time when your body is most vulnerable. While taking care of your child, don't forget to keep an eye out for yourself. Reach out to communities of women for help and advice, speak with your doctor, and listen to your body. 

About the Author

Shikha Gandhi

Shikha Gandhi is a health journalist and a short film maker. She is also a certified Pranic healer and a lover of long walks.