Now that I've had a baby, I have a pretty visceral reaction whenever I smell witch hazel — which is that I immediately start gagging. I delivered vaginally and I had a third degree tear. (It could have been worse. A friend of mine had a fourth degree tear after delivering her 10-pound baby.) Witch hazel pads were lifesavers, though I never want to smell them again. Thankfully for me, if I decide to have another kid and I deliver vaginally, there are five things that are as effective as witch hazel for healing your vagina since I now have a love-hate relationship with the product.
Like most hospitals do, my care team suggested using witch hazel wipes to help with pain down in the "war zone." In fact, my hospital used little round witch hazel pads that looked like Ponds facial cleansing wipes; we'd line them up in my monster pad that was oh-so-lovingly placed in my huge mesh panties. Postpartum care isn’t fun, y’all. I wish more people had talked about that part to be honest. I was totally not prepared. But I digress.
Why do most hospitals use witch hazel in the first place? As Dr. Idries Abdur-Rahman, OB-GYN and one-half of the Twin Doctors for TwinDoctorsTV explains, witch hazel is both an astringent and an anti-inflammatory — two very important things for perineal care and healing. “Witch hazel has been used for centuries for a wide variety of medical conditions, including perineal comfort and healing for postpartum mothers. As an astringent, it helps to tighten loosened skin while also reducing the swelling and inflammation that all new mothers experience. As an added bonus, witch hazel also works wonders on hemorrhoids, another condition that most new mothers experience,” Abdur-Rahman says.
And since lacerations or tears of the vagina and perineum occur during more than half of vaginal deliveries, according to Abdur-Rahman, it’s important to know all the ways we can try to heal and be as comfortable as possible after child birth. I asked Abdur-Rahman for a few things that work just as well as witch hazel when it comes to healing your vagina, and he listed five, with the following caveat: “While there have been no head-to-head studies to confirm efficacy, these are five things that I think work just as well as witch hazel when it comes to soothing and healing a postpartum vagina/perineum.”
1. Simple Ice Packs
In addition to the witch hazel pads, I had giant ice packs that also fit into my mesh panties. And I loved them so. "A great deal of postpartum discomfort is caused by inflammation and there is nothing as effective as simple ice packs for reducing inflammation and it’s associated discomforts," says Abdur-Rahman.
2. Topical Anesthetics
I remember squirting this gel on top of the witch hazel pads, which was on top of the ice packs, which were all in the mesh panties. There was a lot going on down there. Abdur-Rahman says, "Anesthetic creams and sprays (like Lidoderm and Dermaplast) also work wonders when it comes to relieving some of the vaginal/perineal discomfort that most new mothers will experience. While effective in treating the symptoms (discomfort), they don’t treat the cause (inflammation)."
3. A Hemorrhoid Donut Pillow
"Part of vaginal and perineal discomfort after delivery is caused by the pressure exerted by sitting or lying on the already inflamed vagina and perineum. A nice, soft donut pillow not only provides a nice buffer but it actually reduces inflammation by reducing the effect of gravity," Abdur-Rahman suggests. I can vouch for this for sure. I sat on my boppy pillow I brought for breastfeeding (with a towel on top of it, calm down), and I instantly would feel comfort and a release of pressure.
4. Belly Bands or Other Supportive Garments
"Gravity just isn’t your friend during pregnancy or after delivery," Abdur-Rahman says. "Belly bands and pelvic support garments lift the abdomen and support the pelvis, reducing the effect of gravity thereby reducing inflammation and pain."
5. Sitz Bath
"A good old fashioned sitz bath not only reduces inflammation — making your vagina and perineum feel better — but depending upon the additive you use (common choices include baking soda, witch hazel, and Epsom salt), they can also hasten the healing process, especially if you have stitches."
So while it looks like all of these things work well in addition to witch hazel pads (my old nemesis) I'm sure that depending on the severity of your trauma, you could probably use one or all of these things instead of witch hazel pads, too. Good luck, mamas.