Birthing a baby is no small feat. Regardless of the method (vaginal or Cesarean), the side effects of this miraculous event may leave you quite sore. Unless there is a planned Cesarean procedure, those who end up birthing via this method have typically also felt a little or a lot of the labor experience. This means there is a double whammy of pain and inflammation in the vaginal, vulvar, and perineal tissues (as seen in vaginal birth) on top of dealing with an abdominal surgical incision.
Here’s a general list of ways to reduce discomfort and pain in the postpartum period.
Always take pain medication as prescribed and ask your provider if you have questions or concerns.
Cuddling with Baby
Skin-to-skin contact or getting in those fresh baby cuddles will help to release oxytocin (a feel-good hormone) which is important for bonding and can reduce pain.
The tried and true pain reliever for most injuries. You can use moldable gel ice packs, ice in a bag, a bag of frozen veggies (peas work well), or whatever else you can think up. Something that is flexible will be easier to use than that rectangle ice brick that goes in the cooler. If using frozen veggies or other frozen food items, make sure to label the package and do not eat the food inside when you’re done using it as an ice pack. The constant thawing and refreezing can make the food go bad.
When icing or using a cold compress for these sensitive tissues, always put a towel or cloth layer between your skin (perineal or abdominal) and the cold pack. Use for 10-15 minutes as needed throughout the day.
Pad Icicles (Padsicles)
Think of an ice pack and a menstrual pad combined. That’s the idea of a padsicle. These are a great way to apply cold to the vulvar and perineal tissues for pain relief while also accounting for residual uterine bleeding. Padsicles are a great option regardless of vaginal or Cesarean birth and are easy to assemble at home.
Use for 10-15 minutes as needed throughout the day. Sit on a towel for comfort in case of leakage as the padsicle melts.
Pain increases blood pressure and sets the nervous system on high alert, which in turn can increase discomfort in an area that is already sore and inflamed. Deep breathing assists in pain reduction by lowering blood pressure, calming the nervous system, and taking the mental focus off the painful area and placing it elsewhere.
Have you ever noticed how if you focus all your thoughts on a toothache the pain seems to become worse and worse? If we use all our mental focus to think about pain, well, all we’re doing is thinking about pain. When turning attention elsewhere (the joy of having a new baby, appreciating how strong and resilient our bodies are, laughing with family and friends, etc.) we allow other aspects of life to become more important to our cognitive processing than pain, which reduces the pain we experience.
Cesarean scar management
This can begin as early as the day after your baby is born. Properly caring for your incision will improve healing and reduce complications of infection. Before the incision is fully healed, you can perform tissue desensitization to reduce pain and tenderness. After the incision is fully healed, you can perform scar massage to reduce discomfort, prevent adhesions (scar tissue attaching to deeper muscle layers), and improve scar appearance.
Ask your provider about compression garments. Compression over a surgical incision can reduce discomfort, improve healing time, and improve how the scar looks.
To reduce stress on the incision and soreness in the first few days, try to avoid activities that require a big contraction of the abdominal muscles. That means initially avoiding a big sit-up or crunch motion. Activity modification will be your friend.
Schedule an appointment for an evaluation with a Pelvic Health PT to optimize your recovery. If you want to start caring for your surgical incision right away, schedule an appointment for an at-home evaluation in the early postpartum window. If you feel overwhelmed and want to wait for some incision healing, schedule an in-clinic evaluation after your postpartum check-up.