I remember my doctor saying — in an ominous horror movie tone just weeks before I gave birth — everybody tears. While that's not one hundred percent true, it's the rare first-time mom who escapes childbirth without a stitch or two, and some suffer deep lacerations in the form of third or fourth degree tears. If you've given birth recently, and are concerned about how things are going down there, here are 6 signs your vaginal stitches aren't healing properly after childbirth, and what you can do to keep the infection from worsening.
First, let's talk prevention, because, as you already know, an ounce of that good stuff is worth a pound of cure. Healthline recommended sitting on an ice pack for ten minutes at a time in the first 24 hours to help decrease inflammation and promote healing. In addition, ask your doctor about taking a stool softener. An over-the-counter product like Colace means you don't have to "bear down" as much on those stitches when you go to the bathroom. A sitz bath can also help you care for a painful bottom area, according to The Bump. Until your stitches have disappeared or been removed, and until your wounds are fully healed, avoid sexual intercourse.
How long will it take a tear to heal? It depends on the degree, explains Sara Twogood, MD, OB-GYN and contributor to The Bump. A smaller, first or second degree tear will heal faster than a third or fourth degree tear, because those are much deeper. "The stitches dissolve by themselves and do their most work the first two-to-three weeks," notes Twogood. "Sometimes, however, it can take up to 9-10 weeks for the stitches to dissolve completely."
1. The Stitches Smell Foul
If your stitches smell, that's a sign of infection you absolutely shouldn't ignore, advised Healthline.
The good news is that most women will never have to confront an infected tear — with basic care, they tend to heal up very well, noted Healthline. However, when the tear is deep, as with a third or fourth degree laceration, the healing process can be much more complicated. What To Expect reported that deep tears occur naturally in less than 2 percent of cases.
You should pay special attention to any tear that is the result of episiotomy. "One main downside to an episiotomy is extension of the incision into a 3rd or 4th degree laceration," explains Twogood. "These types of lacerations are rare but are more likely to cause worse pelvic floor symptoms (pain, incontinence) than a second degree tear." She tells Romper that episiotomies may also bleed more, and are more likely to heal poorly than a regular, or sponetaneous, tear.
2. Excessive Redness
Excessive redness or swelling in the vaginal or perineal area is another — er, red flag — of infection. According to the postpartum guide on Stork Mama, you should call your doctor, especially if redness is combined with any other symptoms, like pain or a fever. Basically, anything icky or weird from this wound merits a call. Even if you just think there might be someting icky or weird about it — call. While you're probably busy with the baby, it's equally important to take care of yourself.
3. It Hurts — Like, A Lot
You shouldn't have to put up with excessive pain after birth — ever. While some achiness and burning during urination is normal, let you doctor know if the pain is serious. A sudden pain after a vaginal tear is particularly noteworthy, according to Made For Mums, because it might signal infection.
4. Gaps and Breaks
Stork Mama strongly recommended carefully monitoring your stitches for gaps, breaks, and lumps daily. Use a mirror and try not to touch the area too much. (If you do touch, use a clean cloth, not your finger.) Occasionally, stitches need to be re-sutured at your doctor's office.
5. Pain Lingers After Stitches Are Gone
One sure sign your wound didn't completely heal despite treatment is if you still have pain after the stitches dissolve — usually in about two weeks, according to BabyCentre. After two months, you shouldn't feel any discomfort. If you do, give your doctor a call.
6. Fecal Incontinence
If you have to scurry to the bathroom to go number two, or if you're leaking when passing gas, your laceration might be worse than anticipiated, and stitches might not be enough. As BabyCentre explained, a fourth degree tear can impact your rectum, so don't dally and be sure to get to a medical professional right away.
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