If you’ve had a tear or an episiotomy during childbirth, it’s very common to feel pain or soreness for two or three weeks afterwards. And if you’ve had stitches, these should dissolve within a few weeks (up to a month) after giving birth. That might feel like a long time, particularly when you’ve got a small human to contend with as well, but the good news is that there are things you can do to make that process as smooth and painless as possible.
1. Rest, rest, rest
Resting is the number one way that your body will heal. It is a cliche, but really try to sleep when the baby sleeps as much as possible. Depending on how severe your stitches are, you might also be advised to try and avoid lifting anything heavier than your baby for the first six weeks too.
2. Look out for infection
Signs of infection include red swollen skin around the stitches, an unusual smell or discharge, pus, or liquid coming from the wound. If you think you have an infection, or feel you’re in more pain than you should be, get in touch with your midwife or doctor.
3. Manage the pain with painkillers
You can take paracetamol, which is completely safe if you’re breastfeeding. You can also take ibuprofen, but bear in mind that this is only safe while breastfeeding if your child wasn’t premature (born before 37 weeks), was not a low birth weight, and has no medical condition. Aspirin is not recommended if you’re breastfeeding.
4. Soothe the area with cold packs
Another way to soothe the pain is to cool down the area. You can create cold packs by simply wrapping ice cubes in a flannel or tea towel (would not recommend using ice cubes that aren’t wrapped up). You can also put sanitary pads in the freezer so that you don’t have to hold the cold press all of the time!
5. Take care when you pee or poo
It can sting when you pee with stitches, so try pouring warm water over the stitches. You can also buy peri bottles, which are specifically designed for spraying your bits with water while peeing after tearing or an episiotomy. You can also reduce the pressure on your stitches by pressing a wad of clean toilet roll against them while pooing.
6. Keep it clean and dry
After going to the toilet, wipe front to back to keep the stitches clean. Then, pour warm water over your vulva and perineum and pat dry with a clean towel.
7. Air your stitches
Lie down, take your underwear off, and let your stitch get some fresh air for ten minutes or so a few times a day. This will help it heal faster. It also helps if you can wear loose, breathable material too, such as cotton.
8. Sit on a cushion
A simple but effective tip here. Sitting on a hard chair? No, thank you. You can even get special doughnut-shaped cushions so you don’t have any pressure on your perineum at all.
9. Eat well to avoid constipation
Make sure you’re getting your fruit and veggies as, trust us, constipation is not your friend when you’ve got stitches. Drink lots and lots of water as well, which incidentally will help you with a whole bunch of postpartum situations, not just stitches. If needs be, you can take a laxative.
10. Don’t forget your pelvic floor exercises
Although it might feel like you can barely lift your pelvic floor at first, starting to practise pelvic floor exercises is a really important part of recovery. That squeezing action enhances blood flow to the area, which will help you heal faster, and they’ll also reduce the pressure on your stitches.
If you’re worried you’re not recovering well, talk to your midwife, health visitor, or GP. If you think your stitches have healed but you’re still finding things uncomfortable - for example, if your scar is itchy or if it’s painful to have sex - reach out to your doctor.