A Guide to Your Postpartum Vagina

Wondering what's going on with your vagina after giving birth? Check out these parent-tested, doctor-approved postpartum remedies to make you feel better.

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Giving birth puts your vagina through plenty of trauma. After all, your little one, who is about the size of a watermelon at term, has to fit through the opening. The process inevitably leads to some pain and discomfort down there. Read on to learn what to expect from your vagina after birth and find tips for soothing postpartum vaginal pain.

What Happens to Your Vagina After Birth?

After birth, your vagina may be sore from lacerations and swelling. In addition, you will experience vaginal discharge.

Perineal tearing is common

During birth, your vaginal opening, labia, and/or perineum may tear as your baby's head squeezes through. In fact, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), 53% to 79% of people experience perineal tearing when they give birth vaginally.

You may need stitches, and depending on the severity of the tear, recovery can take anywhere from weeks to months. During this time, activities like coughing, sneezing, and bowel movements can cause discomfort. In addition, as your lacerations heal, your vagina, vulva, and surrounding area may begin to itch.

Lochia lasts for around 6 weeks

Another sometimes unpleasant side effect of delivery is lochia, postpartum vaginal bleeding that lasts for six to eight weeks. You may be surprised to learn that lochia occurs with both vaginal and cesarean births: All postpartum bodies will experience their vaginal discharge of blood, mucus, and other uterine tissue as their uterine lining sheds and returns to its pre-pregnancy state.

Lochia starts out bright red and heavy, then fades to pinkish brown, dark brown, and eventually yellow and watery. You may notice a mild odor from this discharge, but you should report anything strong or foul-smelling to a health care provider.

Swelling and dryness are also common

After giving birth, you will likely experience vaginal swelling. In addition, your vagina may be dry because of hormonal changes.

Your vagina will likely return to normal within months, but some people report that their vagina feels "loose" after birth—especially if they delivered a large baby. It's likely weak pelvic floor muscles that are to blame for this feeling. If your vaginal muscles are weakened following birth, you can strengthen them with Kegel exercises.

Vaginal appearance stays mostly the same

So what does a vagina look like after birth? The labia may appear darker and slightly swollen right after delivery, thanks to increased blood flow. Essentially, though, the vagina before and after birth won't be much different.

How to Soothe Your Vagina After Birth

You likely knew to expect a sore vagina after birth—you may have even spent nine months worrying about it. But you may not have known that the aches don't instantly vanish once you've birthed your baby. Pain in your genitals can linger for days or weeks afterward.

Fortunately, there are some ways to soothe your vagina and vulva after giving birth. Keep in mind that although many at-home treatments can support healing, they may not all be safe if you're breastfeeding. So, always consult a health care provider before trying any at-home remedy.

A sitz bath

To relieve the pain from swelling, a tear, or episiotomy, fill a sitz bath or basin with warm water. Soaking your bottom in a sitz bath increases blood flow to the area, reduces inflammation, and repairs the tissues faster.

You can do a sitz bath in a clean bathtub or with a kit that your hospital may supply in the postpartum unit. "With the kit, you place a small, shallow basin over the toilet seat, fill it with warm water, and sit on it so that your vulva and perineum are submerged," says Katie Page, a certified nurse-midwife in Lynchburg, Virginia. "For the bath, fill with 3 to 4 inches of water—just enough to submerge your hips and buttocks—and sit. For both, soak for 20 minutes a few times a day."

A spray bottle

Swelling, abrasions, lacerations, and even stitches can make postpartum peeing a less-than-pleasant experience. So meet your new best friend: the peri bottle, a small, handheld plastic squirt container.

Simply fill it up with lukewarm water and spritz yourself while peeing to dilute the stinging potential of urine. Plus, the warm water is soothing to your tender tissues.

"Avoid spraying water directly into the vagina, however, or that'll cause more discomfort," notes Kelly Kasper, M.D., an OB-GYN at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis. Give yourself even more squirts post-pee to rinse off blood and urine—and to lessen how much toilet paper you need. "Believe me, the less touching, the better," says Page.

Soothing sprays

Over-the-counter (OTC) lidocaine or benzocaine sprays such as Dermoplast can also help relieve pain associated with tearing or hemorrhoids, says Ashley Roman, M.D., board-certified OB-GYN and maternal-fetal specialist at NYU Langone Obstetrics & Gynecology Associates in New York City. To use, give skin a quick aerosol mist after using the bathroom or changing a pad.

"Don't underestimate the hemorrhoids. They can be quite a shock, especially if you have been pushing for a long time," Dr. Roman advises. If your hemorrhoids are extremely painful to the extent that you have trouble even sitting down, you may have to be evaluated by your doctor, she adds.

Ice packs

"After my first son was born, the nurse gave me these maxi pad-shaped disposable ice packs to put in my underwear. They were lifesavers," says Addie Hume Gamble, a mom of two in Agawam, Massachusetts. Dr. Kasper recommends wrapping the ice pack with a washcloth or other soft, absorbent material and icing for 15 to 20 minutes every hour as needed to help reduce pain.

Your hospital may give you a few packs before you head home; otherwise, you can get them at a medical supply or drugstore. Or use this midwife-recommended trick: "Fill up a condom with water, tie the end and freeze it to make a tube of ice. Wrap it in a clean, cotton T-shirt. It fits really nicely against the perineum," says Page. Allergic to latex? A bag of frozen peas works just as well to soothe your vagina after birth.

Witch hazel pads

"Witch hazel contains chemicals called tannins that can help reduce swelling and fight bacteria, which in turn decreases pain and helps prevent infection," says Dr. Kasper. It also has hemostatic properties, which can help stop minor bleeding. Try dabbing your sensitive spots with a medicated witch hazel cooling pad, or use it with other soothing treatments.

Kristen Wesley, a mom of one in Gaithersburg, Maryland, topped her ice pack with three witch hazel cooling pads for instant relief. And Meagan Feeser, a mom of two in York, Pennsylvania, drenched overnight maxis with 2 tablespoons of alcohol-free witch hazel and froze them. "I made padsicles!" she says. "I'd stick it in the mesh undies I took from the hospital. It was a huge relief."

A hairdryer

After you finish peeing, peri bottling, or sitz soaking, stand or sit with your legs apart, and aim your hairdryer about 6 to 8 inches away from your damp nether regions. Set the dryer on the lowest setting and on cool, and move it around, much like you would if you were drying your hair, for no more than three minutes.

"While this won't necessarily ease the pain in your vagina after giving birth, it can help prevent it," says Dr. Kasper. "If you're swollen and inflamed from delivery or stitches, avoiding a towel or toilet paper is a good idea."

A hairdryer is also a great strategy if you're prone to yeast infections, which can often surface postpartum. "Yeast loves moist places," says Page.

Comfy clothes

You'll feel more comfortable if you pack your own pillow, clothes, pajamas, and toothbrush to bring to the hospital or birthing center, Dr. Roman says. She also suggests using the mesh underwear that hospitals often provide after delivery. They may not be sexy, but they save you the hassle of messing up your own underwear—and they're actually pretty comfortable.

OTC pain relievers

"Ibuprofen is a great anti-inflammatory that helps with post-birth bleeding, decreases cramping, and helps with perineal pain—a triple crown," says Page. While it's usually safe to take while nursing, talk it over with a health care provider first.

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