The 4th trimester is often one nobody prepares you for. It’s not glamorous and really no one wants to talk about it. Honestly my brain has mostly forgotten it ever happened. One of the most challenging parts of my postpartum recovery was healing from a 3rd degree vaginal tear. I was not prepared and didn’t really understand my vaginal tear treatment plan. I was in a fog anyway, but didn’t realized that something was going wrong until I suffered in silence for 2 weeks. My husband finally said, “you need to call your doctor or I will. This isn’t normal.” Thank goodness for my husband, because he was right. I had popped one of my stitches and the pain I was having was not normal.
Knowing what you can expect with your vaginal tear treatment can alleviate second guessing and give you confidence in that 4th trimester. Having more tools in your toolbelt will help you through those difficult first 6 weeks. This is most likely not the only challenge you may be facing. So be prepared for all that postpartum can throw at you!
What is A Vaginal Tear?
A vaginal tear is when the skin or muscle in your vaginal or perineal area is torn. Our perineal area is meant to become more thin and flexible as it prepares to allow the baby’s head to pass through without any damage. Unfortunately, even though our body knows exactly what to do we can still sometimes walk away from birth with some serious trauma. There are 4 kinds of vaginal tears during birth.
- 1st Degree Tear: this is a very small injury that involves just the first layer of tissue around the vagina or perineal area.
- 2nd Degree Tear: This is the most common type of tear. It is slightly bigger and extends into the muscular tissue.
- 3rd Degree Tear: Will extend from your vagina to your anus. This is deep like a second degree tear but can also damage the sphincter muscles.
- 4th Degree Tear: This is the least common type of tear. It extends from the vagina through the perineal area and anal sphincter muscles and into the rectum.
Why You Might Get a Vaginal Tear?
There are many reasons that might increase your risks of getting a vaginal tear.
- you have a quick delivery: everything happens so quickly your skin doesn’t have as much time to stretch before you push
- Forceps are used to get the baby out
- baby is large (over 8 lbs)
- position of the baby (face up aka sunny side up): baby will have to extend his head and neck under the pubic bone to exit, which increases risk of a tear
- episiotomy previously
- long delivery
- first delivery
What Can I Expect In My Recovery?
Depending on what type of tear you have, you may have stitches. First degree tears may not need stitches, and will often heal on their own. Your stitches will dissolve in about 6 weeks. Since they dissolve you do not need to see a doctor to get them removed, but you should follow up with your OB at 6 weeks to check on the healing process. If you are concerned prior to to your 6 week appointment, don’t wait to call your doctor.
It will be painful for the first few weeks. It will hurt to pee, have a bowel movement, sit, and get up. You will start to get some relief around 2 weeks postpartum. If things aren’t starting to improve at 2 weeks reach out to your doctor.
Your doctor may prescribe some pain medication when you are sent home. Consult with them if you consider something that they have not suggested. One serious complications from birth is postpartum hemorrhage. So make sure you aren’t taking anything that could increase your risks or reduce your healing time.
Icing your perineal area is another great way to improve your pain levels as part of your vaginal tear treatment. There are many products you can buy over the counter for this specifically or you can use a regular ice pack. Do not put the ice directly on your skin. Place a towel in between your skin and the ice. Do not ice for more than 15-20 minutes at a time. Long term icing can actually slow down the healing process. It can also damage the skin.
Another option in vaginal tear treatment to help with pain is a sitz bath. This is when you will fill up either a small bowl that fits in your toilet or you can fill up your bathtub a few inches with warm water. You will let your perineal area sit in the warm water. This increases blood flow to the area and allows for the muscle to relax and promote healing. It also helps to keep the area clean and soothe the pain.
Tips For Success In Vaginal Tear Treatment!
There are several things you can do as you recover to improve your healing. They should be done consistently, which can be hard when you are in that 4th trimester. Do your best. Some of these activities others can help you with and some activities you can include your new baby.
- Rest when you can: Everyone says, “sleep when baby sleeps.” I know it’s very tempting to stay up and get things done, but honestly this is great advice. You can let your house turn to shambles for a few weeks while you recover. Ask your husband, mom, or friend to help if you can’t handle the chaos. Rest will help your body to recuperate faster.
- Walk everyday: Start small and increase how long you walk every day. Physical exercise will keep your blood pumping throughout your body to help with healing. Just don’t overdo it. Listen to your body and slowly progress. Walking is advised over other activities because it is low impact.
- Avoid Strenuous Activity: Strenuous physical activity can lead to longer healing times and further damage to your tear. This was my problem. Our bedroom was on the second floor and we had a high bed. I would climb in and out of bed to get my daughter when she needed fed at night. If I could go back I would have limited going up and down the stairs and had my husband bring my daughter to me instead of climbing in and out of bed all night.
- Don’t Lift Heavy Objects: Nothing heavier than your baby.
- Drink Lots of Fluids: This is important for healing. Stay hydrated!!! It can also help you avoid constipation.
- Keep It Clean: It is a wound so keep it clean to avoid infection. That means after a bowel movement or voiding wash area with warm water through a peri bottle. Then pat the area dry with toilet paper. Try not to touch the area with your hands.
- Stop or avoid smoking, drinking alcohol, and caffeine: All these substances can slow the body’s natural healing process.
Frequently Asked Questions
Vaginal tears are common in childbirth. They can be quite uncomfortable and make it difficult to care for your newborn child in the first few weeks. Reach out if you need help. Overdoing it will lead to more complications and slower healing time. There are many things you can do to improve your healing and get back to feeling like yourself. It does take time though. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor if you have any concerns.
Jess is a registered nurse with over 6+ years of critical care experience for patients young and old and is the mother of two small children. After having her own children she felt inspired to provide mothers with real actionable guidance and education to make informed decisions throughout their pregnancy and postpartum experience.