What a stitch-up

12:0AM, Apr 13th 2010

Many women need stitches after giving birth. Caring for them properly will reduce the risk of infection and help you heal.

Stitches. Ouch. They're the one thing most mums-to-be dread about the birth.

But tearing or having an episiotomy (where a cut is made in your perineum to ease your baby's head out) is a simple and common procedure in vaginal deliveries, and having stitches are necessary to help your wound heal and close. You shouldn't feel a thing during the process as the area will be anaesthetised, but if you do, shout.

Clean and dry

Once the stitches are in, it's important to keep your perineum (the area between your vagina and anus) clean, so wash it at least once a day, and dry yourself by patting the area with a soft towel, from front to back.

Are you sitting comfortably?

As long as your perineum's healing well, the soreness should ease within around five days - around the time that the stitches dissolve and drop out. Your midwife will check the area when she visits, so mention anything unusual to her. For example, if your perineum is painful, inflamed and swollen, there's a nasty smell or discharge, or you have a high temperature (above 37.5℃), your stitches may have become infected. Your midwife can advise you to see your doctor who can prescribe antibiotics.

You'll probably experience some discomfort for the first week, but if it goes on for longer, seek advice from your GP.

Take it easy

Overdoing things can put pressure on your stitches and could make them hurt, so don't lift anything heavy, such as the vacuum cleaner, for a month, and put your feet up and rest as much as possible.

Toilet troubles?

If you're scared that urinating will sting, try adding two drops of lavender essential oil to a jug of clean, warm water and pour it over the sore area as you wee - it really helps.

It's natural to dread opening your bowels for the first time after giving birth as you do feel very delicate down below. Make it easier by eating a high-fibre diet and drinking plenty of fluids to keep your stools soft and bulky. Take your time, and use those relaxation exercises you learnt for labour. You may also find it easier to try a semi-standing position when you open your bowels, but make sure you're well supported. If a few days have passed and you still haven't been to the toilet, ask your midwife for some lactulose, or have a drink of boiled water with a drop of peppermint oil added - it will make things a lot easier. Another tip is to hold a sanitary towel over your stitches for support while you open your bowels.

Love me tender

Many women wait until just before their six-week postnatal check to make love again, while others don't feel ready for months , so don't feel under pressure to resume your sex life. Even if you're raring to go, it's wise to wait until your stitches have dissolved before having intercourse.

'Wait until you both feel ready,' says Mary. 'When you do try, if it hurts, stop. Then try again a few days later.'

If making love is painful, tell your GP, so he can check you've healed properly. Very occasionally, the perineum is sewn up too tightly, and needs to be restitched.

4 ways to soothe your stitches

1 Take paracetamol. If it doesn't work, ask your GP to recommend stronger medication (remember to say if you're breastfeeding).

2 Wrap an ice pack, a bag of frozen peas or a cooled gel pad (available from chemists) in a clean cloth and press it gently on to your perineum to reduce swelling and bruising.

3 Do your pelvic floor exercises - they aid healing as they boost blood supply to the wound.

6 Add a cup of salt to a washing-up bowl of warm water and sit in it for five minutes to speed healing.

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