Recovery: 5 things to consider after delivery for yourself and your newborn baby
Your newborn baby is finally here. You spent countless hours, perhaps even months and years, preparing for this most special of birthdays. Taking advice from friends, family and doctors about labor and delivery, the endless questions of where, when and how are now behind you. Maybe your birth experience was as you had hoped; maybe it was not at all what you expected.
What you almost certainly did not expect is what comes next: recovery. Few talk about it, but everyone goes through it. Just as with labor and delivery, the period of recovery can be emotionally, exhausting, painful and surprising. While it varies from mom to mom – a natural, non-medicated birth and a complicated vaginal or Cesarean birth will have different recovery needs and lengths – there are a few commonalities for everyone. Here are five things to consider ahead of delivery so you can prepare for the healing process and get back to focusing on your newborn baby:
- Perineum – The perineum is the area at the base of your pelvic floor. You likely did not know it had a name or played such an important role, but it will stretch during delivery, and your doctor or practitioner may suggest doing perineal massages ahead of time to help prepare. As this natural stretching occurs, the area can tear (Your doctor may mention a first, second or third degree tear – ask for details.), which will likely require sutures immediately after delivery. While these will heal and dissolve into the body, the trauma to the perineal area is a primary source of recovery pain and needed postpartum attention. This is, of course, avoided with a scheduled cesarean birth but is still relevant for a mom that does any amount of pushing.
2. Witch Hazel – Witch hazel is an astringent used to treat a wide variety of skin irritations, from hemorrhoids to poison ivy. It is available at many drug stores and health stores and may be mixed with a percentage of alcohol. Ice is commonly used in the hospital to soothe the sore perineum, either tucked into a glove, bag, or a cold compress. This provides needed relief but can be awkward to position and melts over time. A nice alternative is to soak and freeze large maxi pads in witch hazel, then use the pads multiple times throughout the day to soothe sore perineal areas. You can have several pads ready when you come home, and making more can be a great task for moms or sisters eager to help! Stores also sell pre-soaked witch hazel wipes (think make-up remover wipes), which can be placed in the refrigerator and used on hemorrhoids or other sore spots.
3. Colace – Colace is the brand name for the leading manufacturer of stool softeners. A generic stool softener is just as effective, as long as the primary ingredient is docusate salts or dioctyl sulfosuccinate. Bowel movements after delivery are challenging with uncomfortable build-up of pressure on the perineum, potential pain near sutures, burning near hemorrhoids, or other discomfort. Doctors may prescribe Colace in the hospital; ask if you can increase the dosage. Have a supply that will last a few weeks at home, and experiment with increasing past the recommended dosage if more relief is needed. (Discuss this with your doctor first.) Be aware that stool softeners work by pulling water from the body. You also need water to produce breast milk so drink plenty of fluids.
4. Sitz bath – The oddly named sitz bath is a bath in which you sit with just a few inches of water to ease sore perineal and vaginal tissues. You can do this in a bathtub, or an easier option is to purchase a small sitz bowl that rests on top of the toilet seat. Spend a few extra dollars and purchase one with a wide seat for added comfort. Warm water will be a nice change from cold compresses, and you can mix in witch hazel or Epsom salt. Discuss with your doctor before taking a sitz bath as the details of your recovery may impact whether soaking in water in advisable.
5. Patience – With the physical discomfort, raging hormones, and a crying newborn baby, the recovery period can feel endless. Limited support or medical attention can become a fast-track to postpartum depression as you cycle from managing pain, to soothing and feeding your newborn baby, to hosting friends and family, who likely do not know how best to support you at this vulnerable time. Medicines and remedies will help, but your mental health is what will really get you through the day and long nights. A commitment to patience that “this too shall pass” can save you in those dark moments. Your body will heal and the pain will fade; you will learn how to best care for and bond with your newborn; and you will get out of the house again and get pieces of your previous life back. In the hardest moments, if you can remember to be grateful for the opportunity to learn patience and provide unconditional love, you will be one step further on the road to recovery.