This is part 4 in a 5-part series on postpartum body changes.
Vaginas are just uncomfortable post-delivery. I’ll break this topic down into bleeding, tears, and your pelvic floor.
Postpartum bleeding (a.k.a. lochia) starts strong and trails along for roughly 4–6 weeks. (Yeah, that’s not a typo: stock up on pads). It will happen regardless of whether you gave birth naturally or via C-section.
This can be stressful at first, especially if you’re asked to help monitor if you’re losing too much blood. At the hospital, I was told to tell them if I was ‘filling up a regular pad within an hour, or had any big clots — larger than a walnut’.
What they’re watching for is a postpartum hemorrhage (PPH). It’s rare (impacting ~3% of new moms), but potentially deadly. PPH is defined as losing more than a pint (i.e., 500ml+) of blood after the first day of birth, though this type of hemorrhage can happen up to 12 weeks postpartum.
Once the bleeding stops you won’t have a regular period for a while. This makes planning birth control a b*tch. The timing of your period depends on your body and how you’re breastfeeding your baby.
For moms that don’t breastfeed, the average return time is 10 weeks. For those that do, studies find averages ranging from 5 months to nearly a year.
This delay is what makes breastfeeding a recognized form of birth control by the American College of Ob-Gyns. (Though, there are several caveats and steps to watch for it to work… so, good luck.)
Next are the tears.
Most (85%) new moms that have a vaginal birth will have some amount of tearing. The good news is that most of the time it’s relatively minor. Risk factors include having low forceps instruments used in the delivery, and, well, having a huge baby.
Tears make going to the bathroom a nightmare, especially if you had stitches. You’ll want to use a squirt bottle instead of wiping for at least the first several days after delivery. And probably also a stool softener.
Then there’s the pelvic floor.
This is the group of muscles between your pubic bone and tailbone. Regardless of whether you have a C-section or regular birth, up to 1 in 5 new moms will be dealing with leaking pee 6 months after delivery.
About 3% get to experience leaking poop. Unsurprisingly, those with bigger tears in childbirth also have more problems with leaking pee and poop.
This is not only embarrassing and uncomfortable.
Having leaks or prolapse (where it looks like your vagina is trying to fall out of your body) can torpedo your sex life. And these symptoms can last years.
Fortunately, there is help.
Physiotherapy to rebuild pelvic floor muscles is shown to reduce leakages and improve quality of life. I don’t know why, but many insurance providers don’t cover it.
New tech solutions are also gaining attention. Companies like Pelviva, Silk’n, and ELITONE all offer devices that promise to help rebuild pelvic floor muscle strength.
And if you’re having any vagina troubles, tell your partner upfront. If they don’t know what’s happening and guess your lack of interest in sex is about them, that will naturally add relationship friction.
Click below for the other pieces in this 5-part series.
(Part 1) 4th-trimester shocks – A 5-part roadmap
(Part 2) Postpartum emotions — Swings take control
(Part 3) Abs – Why the gym won’t cure a (post-baby) jelly belly