how to care for yourself after childbirth

When They Tell You Not to Look Down There After Birth... They Mean It

Giving birth is a miraculous and life-changing experience, but it can also bring about significant changes to a woman's body, particularly her vagina. Many new moms are curious about what to expect in terms of vaginal changes after giving birth. It's a topic that often goes unspoken, but it's important for women to know what to anticipate and how to navigate these changes. So, when they tell you not to look down there after birth... they mean it. Let's dive into the details.

Short-Term Changes to Your Vagina After Birth

Childbirth is a physically demanding process, and your body needs time to recover. After a vaginal delivery, there are several short-term changes that you can expect for your vagina. It's essential to be aware of these changes so that you can take proper care of yourself during the postpartum period.

1. Vaginal Bleeding and Discharge

After giving birth, it's normal to experience vaginal bleeding and discharge known as lochia. This bleeding can last anywhere from (on average) two to 12 weeks +, with the heaviest bleeding occurring immediately after delivery. Over time, the bleeding will become lighter in color and amount. It's important to note that the bleeding may stop for a few days and then return. Until the bleeding has ceased for a full week, it's possible for it to come back unexpectedly. The amount and color of bleeding can also vary with activity levels.

2. Soreness, Bruising, and Swelling

The process of giving birth can leave your vagina feeling sore, bruised, and swollen. This discomfort is completely normal and to be expected. Whether you experienced tearing or required vaginal sutures, you may experience higher levels of discomfort. It's important to remember that even if you had a cesarean delivery, vaginal exams can still cause swelling and tissue damage that requires time to heal. The good news is that the soreness, bruising, and swelling will gradually improve over time.

3. Vaginal Itchiness and Dryness

Tearing during delivery or having an episiotomy can result in stitches in the vaginal area. As these stitches heal and dissolve, you may experience some itchiness. Fluctuating hormones, particularly as you experience a drop in estrogen and progesterone levels during the postpartum period, can also lead to vaginal dryness. This dryness can extend to other parts of your body as well. However, as your hormone levels stabilize and your cycles return, your vaginal lubrication should normalize.

Long-Term Changes to Your Vagina After Birth

While most women don't notice significant long-term changes to their vagina after giving birth, there are some impacts that may linger beyond the postpartum period. It's important to understand these changes so that you can be better prepared and address any concerns that may come up along the way.

1. Scar Tissue

If you experienced vaginal or perineal tearing or had an episiotomy, it will take time for the tears and sutures to heal. As the healing process occurs, scar tissue may form. While scar tissue is necessary for holding the two sides together, it can sometimes cause discomfort if it becomes too tough or inflexible. It typically takes about a year for scar tissue to remodel and loosen up.

2. Changes to Appearance

After giving birth, you may notice changes in the appearance of your vagina. It may appear wider or have a slight change in color. These changes are a result of the birth process, as well as any trauma sustained during delivery, the healing processes, and individual factors. It's important to remember that although the vaginal opening may look wider, the vagina itself does not permanently widen. The tone of the vagina is primarily due to the surrounding muscles, and any changes in appearance are typically minimal and temporary.

3. Changes to Vaginal Muscle Tone

While the vagina usually regains most of its pre-pregnancy shape and muscle strength over time, there can be a slight loss of vaginal muscle tone after childbirth. Research has shown that pelvic floor muscle strength can remain slightly affected even a decade after vaginal childbirth. This may contribute to a difference in sensations during sex for some individuals. The change in muscle strength is generally minor, but it's important to exercise and strengthen the vaginal muscles to regain optimal muscle tone.

Taking Care of Your Vagina After Giving Birth

Now that you have a better understanding of the changes your vagina may experience after giving birth, it's important to know how to take care of yourself during this time. Here are some tips from experts to help you navigate the postpartum period:

1. Handling Lochia and Discharge

During the first few days after delivery, it's recommended to wear adult diapers to manage heavy postpartum bleeding. As the bleeding becomes lighter, regular maxi pads should be sufficient. It's important to change pads frequently and maintain good hygiene.

2. Managing Soreness and Swelling

To ease soreness and swelling, applying ice packs in the first few hours after birth can help reduce inflammation. Taking sitz baths with warm water can also promote vaginal recovery and provide relief from any itchiness caused by healing tears. Avoid sitting directly on your bottom or on any hard surfaces. This will help to alleviate any potential discomforts during the recovery period.

3. Addressing Vaginal Dryness and Dry Skin

Using pH-balanced lubricants, particularly during sexual activity, can help relieve vaginal dryness. It's important to wait until you're cleared for intercourse by your doctor and take things slow. To soothe dry skin, use fragrance-free body moisturizers to minimize potential irritants.

4. Strengthening Vaginal Muscles

Exercise, particularly walking, running, and weight training, can help strengthen the vaginal muscles. Pelvic floor exercises, commonly known as Kegels, are also beneficial for strengthening the pelvic floor muscles. Kegels can improve muscle tone, enhance postpartum recovery, and potentially improve your sex life after giving birth.

5. Managing Scar Tissue

After vaginal or perineal tears and stitches have healed, massaging the scar tissue with vitamin E oil can help loosen it up and promote flexibility; however, you will want to avoid massaging scar tissue while it is still forming, as it may impede the healing process. *It’s always best to consult with your doctor for personalized advice on scar tissue management.

Embracing Your Postpartum Vagina

While it's natural to wonder if your vagina will ever be the same after giving birth, the truth is that it will undergo changes, but it will also have the remarkable ability to recover and adapt. Most vaginal changes experienced after childbirth are temporary and will gradually improve over time. It's also important to remember that these changes are the result of the incredible process that brought your child into the world. Embrace and appreciate your postpartum body, and if you have any concerns or lingering pain, don't hesitate to reach out to your healthcare provider for guidance and support.

So, when they tell you not to look down there after birth... they mean it. But they also mean that it's a completely natural part of the journey - so expect it! - and through time and self-care, your postpartum vagina will heal and adjust. You've brought new life into this world, and that's something to be celebrated!!!

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