Posted: May 20, 2013 7:00 AM
Many pregnant moms fear tearing during delivery. While not ideal, tears aren't uncommon. Find out how to soothe and care for stitches and why you shouldn't worry too much.

It's normal to consider the size of a baby's head and panic a little. The truth is, it's not uncommon for women to tear vaginally during delivery. These tears are quickly repaired with stitches in most cases. Find out how to care for a vaginal tear while you're caring for your newborn.

Tearing vs. episiotomy

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, getting an episiotomy doesn't make healing easier than a natural tear. The cut is usually deeper than a tear or tears that occur on their own. It's important to talk to your doctor or midwife about what you prefer and what measures you'd like to take to avoid tearing or needing an episiotomy. Even if you're careful, you could end up needing stitches. This is not unusual. Whether you've had an epidural or not, being stitched up shouldn't be unpleasant. Most new moms are busy meeting baby while the repairs are being performed.

What a birth doula has to say

Karen E. Bayne is a childbirth educator and birth doula. It's been her experience that most new moms are very nervous about their first bowel movement after tearing. She recommends plenty of water, fruit and fiber to help with it. “Clean wounds are important,” Karen says, recommending Earth Mama Angel Baby's products for postpartum care. “Watch for signs of infection like fever.”

No-frills input from moms who have been through it

  • When Tara's first daughter was born, she was already at nine centimeters when she got to the hospital. Pushing went quickly. “I knew there was tearing, and I was terrified the first time I had to go to the bathroom, thinking it would be terribly painful," she says. “It wasn't, and I discovered how glorious warm sitz baths could be.”
  • New mom Roberta says, “I didn't think the stitches/tearing were a big deal at all. I'm three and a half months postpartum and all seems healed.”
  • “I like to think I got a brand new vag after my second,” says Lexi, mom to four. “So many stitches. Two doctors worked on me. Better than new!“

Aftercare tips

  • Your medical care provider will give you a squirt bottle. Fill it with warm water and use instead of wiping. This will keep your stitches clean and will soothe them.
  • Ask your midwife or nurse to show you how to make a gentle ice compress with a menstrual pad. It sounds crazy, but it feels wonderful.
  • Use a sitz bath for comfort and cleansing.
  • If you're prescribed anti-inflammatory medication, topical cream or antibiotics, take them as directed and stay hydrated.
  • Give yourself time. While the tear will heal before you know it, your vaginal area may remain sensitive. Scar tissue can cause lingering pain and your hormones can lead to dryness. Talk to your doctor about ways to manage pain and enhance satisfaction if your discomfort persists.

More on labor and delivery

A long road to natural childbirth
Skip the pitocin, try the salad
Why I'd only give birth in a hospital