An episiotomy may be necessary to safely deliver your baby and prevent tearing. Learn how to properly care for your episiotomy stitches to minimize the risk of infection and expedite the healing process.
Birth plans rarely ever go the way we expect. While you may have dreamt of a relaxing labor that ends with your baby gently sliding out into the world, the reality is often much more erratic.
If you’ve recently delivered, you may be left with the aftermath of an episiotomy, otherwise known as a perineotomy.
An episiotomy – an incision made in the perineum between the vagina and anus – is typically performed during the final stages of childbirth to enlarge the vaginal opening. The incision is then stitched shut to promote healing.
“Some new moms feel very little discomfort after an episiotomy and are pain-free after 10 to 14 days,” says Marie Martinez, author of New Mommy, Hot Body. “Others may still feel uncomfortable after a month.”
Today, dissolvable sutures are almost always used when performing an episiotomy. It takes an average of two to three weeks for the stitches on a typical episiotomy (second-degree tear) to fully dissolve and the skin and muscle to heal, according to Baby Center. In the meantime, follow these tips to ward off infection and encourage faster healing.
Keep the Area Clean and Dry
Moisture and wounds do not mix. As the vagina is self-cleaning, failure to properly clean the perineal area following an episiotomy sets the stage for an infection due to a buildup of bacteria.
Wash the area frequently by filling a spray bottle with water and spritzing the wound. Use a soft, clean towel to gently dry the area. Repeat after using the bathroom or whenever you feel moist down there.
Change Sanitary Pads Regularly
You’ll likely be wearing sanitary pads around the clock after giving birth. The fluids on the pad can come in contact with the stitches, creating another moisture issue. Be sure to change your sanitary pads regularly to help keep things dry down there.
If you find that you have to change pads frequently, try a sanitary pad designed for a heavier flow. Don’t forget about using perineal cold pack sanitary pads while also soothe the skin.
Encourage Air Flow
Just like any wound on your body, it’s better to allow the incision to get some fresh air whenever possible.
While you might not be able to do this during the day, you may want to consider sleeping without your underwear at night. This will allow the air to circulate around the wound, helping it to heal faster.
Stay Hydrated and Eat Plenty of Fiber
Constipation can make the discomfort of an episiotomy much worse. Do your best to avoid constipation by drinking plenty of water and adding more fiber to your diet.
Good sources of fiber include beans, whole grains, popcorn, brown rice, nuts, berries, bran cereal, lentils, and broccoli. If constipation continues to be a problem, ask your doctor about taking a stool softener.
Take Sitz Baths
Consider taking sitz baths in the first few weeks following the birth. Sitz baths are shallow baths of warm water that help cleanse the perineal area, as well as relieve pain and itching.
Sitz bath kits are available at most drugstores. Sit in a sitz bath for approximately 15 to 20 minutes. After stepping out of the tub, gently dry the perineum with a clean towel.
Relieve Pressure with a Cushion
Sitting upright after an episiotomy can be downright painful. Relieve discomfort while facilitating healing by sitting on a doughnut-shaped cushion or pillow.
These affordable cushions have a hole in the center that takes the pressure off the wound. They can be used on most surfaces, including chairs, couches, and beds.
Take It Easy and Rest Often
Moving around too much after an episiotomy can lengthen the healing period. Take great care when transitioning from a sitting to a standing position, and vice versa. Also avoid any strenuous activities that could put excessive pressure on the wound.
Resting helps to lessen the stress on the body which is important for optimal healing. Be sure to always follow instructions provided by your doctor or midwife regarding care for stiches.
While episiotomies are not as common as they used to be, they may still performed if the baby is large (fetal macrosomia), in an abnormal position, needs to be delivered quickly, or if extensive vaginal tearing appears likely. If you end up needing an episiotomy, know that you’ll likely heal quickly if you follow basic hygiene instructions.