What Is Vaginal Delivery Recovery Like?
Vaginal delivery recovery, also called postpartum recovery, takes time. Some women don’t feel like their pre-pregnancy selves again for a few months, though many feel mostly recovered after 6-8 weeks.
Two-thirds of babies in the U.S. are born through vaginal delivery. Whether you're in labor for 2 hours or 2 days, you'll probably need to stay in the hospital for about 48 hours, depending on what you and your doctor decide. After you go home, your body will need a few weeks to recover fully.
Here's what you can expect post-delivery.
During labor, your perineum -- the area between your vagina and rectum -- may stretch and tear, which can hurt. The postpartum pain may be worse if you get an episiotomy, when your doctor makes a small cut that widens your vagina to help your baby come out.
You may have stitches to close tears or cuts in your perineum. This may take up to 6 weeks to heal. Your body will eventually absorb the stitches. In the meantime, don’t touch your stitches and call your doctor if they get more painful or red or weep fluid.
To relieve soreness at home:
- Place an ice pack or cold pack on the area, to ease pain and swelling.
- Sit on a pillow instead of a hard surface.
Use a squirt bottle with warm water to keep the area clean while you pee. When you have to move your bowels, press a clean pad or washcloth against the sore area, and wipe from front to back. That will ease pain and help you avoid infection.
It's common to have vaginal bleeding and discharge for several weeks after delivery. This is your body's way of getting rid of the extra tissue and blood inside of your uterus that nourished your baby during your pregnancy.
The first few days, you'll see bright red blood that will gradually lessen, turning pinkish to brownish, then to yellow or creamy before disappearing. Discharge may be heaviest in the first 10 days. You may pass some clots. This is most common in the first week after birth. Call your doctor if clots are bigger than a quarter.
It will taper to light bleeding and spotting and usually stops about 6 weeks after delivery.
Use sanitary pads, not tampons, while you have vaginal discharge. Tampons can bring bacteria into your vagina that can cause infection.
Contractions for a few days after delivery are normal. They can feel like the cramps you have during your period. They happen because your uterus is shrinking -- it goes from about 2.5 pounds right after delivery to just a couple of ounces 6 weeks later.
You may notice these pains more when you're nursing your baby, since breastfeeding releases chemicals in your body that cause your uterus to tighten. You can put a heating pad on your belly or ask your doctor if it's OK to take an over-the-counter pain reliever.
You may have trouble pooping after you give birth. This is often a side effect of the pain meds you got during delivery. If you had an episiotomy, you may also be afraid that moving your bowels will damage your stitches.
Or you might have the opposite problem. The muscles and tissue in your rectum can be stretched or torn during childbirth, so you could leak gas and poop. Hemorrhoids that come out of your anal opening can also make it easier for poop to escape. It usually gets better within a few months after delivery.
Depending on what's causing it, your doctor may prescribe medication to control diarrhea or gas. Watch what you eat: Dairy, gluten, or fatty foods and artificial sweeteners can cause diarrhea for some people. Kegel exercises, where you tighten your pelvic muscles as if you're stopping your pee mid-stream, can help, too.
Vaginal delivery stretches out your bladder and can cause nerve and muscle damage for a short time. That can make it hard to go to the bathroom even when you feel the urge.
Try pouring water over your genitals while you're sitting on the toilet to lessen the sting from pee.
You may also notice that you leak a little every time you cough or laugh. This should get better on its own. You can speed recovery with Kegel exercises. Try tightening your muscles for 5 seconds, five times in a row. Work up to 10 times in a row, until you're doing at least three sets of 10 reps daily.
Breast Swelling and Soreness
Nursing or pumping will ease the swelling and tenderness. Place cold washcloths on your breasts between feedings, too.
If you're not breastfeeding, wear a firm, supportive bra. Avoid rubbing your breasts, which will just cause them to make more milk.
Hair and Skin Changes
Don't panic if your hair is thinning the first 3-4 months after you give birth. This comes from shifting hormone levels. When you were pregnant, high levels of hormones made your hair grow faster and fall out less.
You may also see red or purple stretch marks on your belly and breasts. They won't go away completely, but they will eventually fade.
After you bring your baby home, you may go through a roller coaster of emotions -- including worry, anxiety, and fatigue -- in the early days of motherhood. That's called the "baby blues," and it's caused by hormone changes.
When to See Your Doctor
You'll usually visit your doctor about 6 weeks after delivery. They'll check your vagina, cervix, and uterus as well as your weight and blood pressure. Once you've gotten the all-clear from them, it's usually fine to start having sex again (ask your doctor about birth control first) and to get back to an exercise routine.
Before your checkup, call your doctor right away if you have:
- Bleeding from your vagina that soaks more than one pad per hour
- A severe headache that doesn't go away
- Leg pain, along with redness or swelling
- Breast pain, swelling, warmth, and redness
- Chills or a fever higher than 100.4 F
- Fainting or dizziness
- Vision changes or a bad headache that won’t go away
- Pain or other problems when you pee
- Strong-smelling vaginal discharge
- Heart palpitations, chest pain, or problems breathing
- Pain in your belly that gets worse or is new