Child birth is hard work, and recovery can be tough too. Many mums require stitches due to tearing or an episotomy. In Australia, around 13% of women have an episiotomy, and seven out of ten mums experience some degree of tearing when giving birth.
This may be a part of birth that you dread but unfortunately it is a reality for many women.
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 any pain during the procedure as the area will be anaesthetised, but if you do, shout. Caring for them properly will reduce the risk of infection and help you heal.
Overdoing things can put pressure on your stitches and could make them hurt
Four 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. Use ice.
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. Pelvic floor
Do your pelvic floor exercises - they aid healing as they boost blood supply to the wound.
4. Salty water
Add a cup of salt to a washing-up bowl of warm water and sit in it for five minutes to speed healing.
Here's some points to remember to help your stitches heal and help you recover.
Keep them 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.
Talk to your midwife if you experience discomfort
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 you 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.
Avoid doing anything strenuous and don't use the vacuum cleaner for a month. As much as possible focus on putting your feet up and resting as much as possible.
Using the toilet
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 pad over your stitches for support while you go to the toilet. It might feel a bit funny but it can give you some added support while you're feeling so tender.
Many women wait until just before their six-week postnatal check to have sex again, while others don't feel ready for months.
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 and your partner feel ready. When you do try, if it hurts, stop. Then try again a few days later.
If you find intercourse 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.
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Last updated: July 2015