There’s no question that giving birth is physically demanding. Although a woman’s body is designed to carry and birth a baby, suffering a tear during a vaginal birth is quite common.
During childbirth, the entrance to the vagina and the perineum (the skin between the vagina and the anus) needs to stretch to allow the baby’s head to emerge. A tear happens when the baby stretches the vagina during birth to the point that the skin of the perineum strains and then tears. To avoid a more serious tear, doctors or midwives will sometimes perform an episiotomy, when a small incision is made in the perineum to make the opening wider.
Regardless of the type of birth experience you’ve had, you’ll want to regain your strength and heal as fast as possible, so that you can tackle parenthood – pain-free and with confidence. Wellness expert and author of Optimum Nutrition Before, During and After Pregnancy, Patrick Holford, says moms shouldn’t ignore the importance of the right diet and supplements to help speed up the healing process.
Patrick’s top nutritional tips to speed up healing after childbirth:
- Make sure you’re getting enough vitamins A, C, E and zinc. These nutrients are key to repairing damaged tissues, especially if you have stitches in your abdomen or down below. Studies have shown that vitamin E, taken as an oral supplement, is more effective than applying it topically to the skin.
- Use winning combinations. Did you know that vitamin C, together with vitamin E, encourages skin elasticity and the contraction of skin across the abdomen?
- Up your intake of omegas. Essential fats are rich in antioxidants, which help the body to regenerate damaged skin, so make sure you eat foods rich in these nutrients such as flaxseed oil, seeds and fatty fish like mackerel and salmon.
- Eat more fruits and vegetables. Besides their abundance of healing nutrients, fruits and veggies with the skins left on are high in fibre, too. If you’re sore down below, this is important because you certainly don’t want the discomfort of constipation to deal with.
- The amino acid, glutamine, is particularly effective for healing cuts and wounds. Patrick Holford recommends taking 5g three times a day 20 minutes before eating, until you’ve healed. However, it’s a good idea to chat to your healthcare provider before taking any new supplement or medication.
- The homeopathic remedy arnica is effective for treating bruises. “It’s quite safe to take while breastfeeding and can even be beneficial to your baby, as its healing properties will be carried to your milk to help your baby recover from the birth too,” says Patrick.
Simple steps to soothe and treat tender bits
Tears or episiotomies are stitched with desolvable stitches. These stitches don’t need to be removed and will dissolve within seven to 10 days. If you’ve had a C-section, you’ll need to visit your healthcare provider to have the stitches removed about a week after the birth, explains certified doula and childbirth expert from Blissful Births SA, Magdeleen Moller, who has assisted hundreds of women during and after childbirth.
Follow her advice to soothe those stitches and reduce the chance of infection…
- Spray the perineal area with a warm-water solution. Add lukewarm water and one tablespoon of coarse salt to a spray or squeeze bottle. You can also add a few drops of lavender or tea tree oil. However, take care to add just a little if you’re breastfeeding. Make two bottles, one with the solution and one with warm water. Every time you go to the toilet, spray some solution directly onto your vaginal area, followed by a second spray of water to clean the area. Avoid wiping the area with toilet paper, and dab it dry instead, advises Magdeleen.
- Have regular salt baths with Epsom salts. Besides taking some much-needed time out to soak in a warm bath for a few minutes, baths offer incredible healing properties for sore, tender areas, especially if you add a half to one cup of Epsom salts to the water. However, if you’ve had a C-section, you’ll need to avoid bathing for a while in order to keep the wound dry. Follow your doctor’s advice on the treatment and care of the wound.
- Use a natural stool softener. Whether you’ve had a vaginal birth or C-section, you’ll want to avoid straining on the toilet after delivery. If fibrous foods don’t do the trick, speak to your healthcare provider about a safe oral medication you can take.
- Wear absorbent maternity pads.You can expect bleeding in the first few weeks after birth. During this time, you’ll need to invest in lightweight, ultra-absorbent maternity pads. It’s important to change them regularly (every three to four hours) to reduce the chance of infection. The right underwear makes a difference, so wear soft cotton options or disposable mesh maternity panties that allow air flow around the wound while still keeping the maternity pad in place.
- Allow the stitches to heal spontaneously. This means no pulling or disturbing the stitch line, whether it’s across your tummy or down below, says Magdeleen. This simple move will go a long way towards healing.
- Manage your pain and swelling. Cool items always help to reduce swelling and ease pain in the vaginal area. Try holding a frozen maternity pad filled with water over the perineal area for a few minutes at a time. You can also use a cold gel pack wrapped in a soft cloth or towel. Black tea has anti-inflammatory properties, so dunk a tea bag in a quarter cup of boiling water and steep until cooled. Wring out the bag and place against your skin.
- Take it easy. New moms need to rest and heal as much as possible in the first six to 10 weeks after birth. If possible, try to limit movement and only do what’s necessary. Don’t pick up heavy items or drive before you’re advised to. Ask for help when you need it.
See your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following:
- Redness and itchiness, a foul smell or discharge leaking from the wound.
- Excessive bleeding. No bleeding should come from the stitched tear or cut. If you notice any fresh, red blood around the area, see your doctor.
- Increased pain in the area.
- Sweating and a fever.