The role of warm compresses and tissue massage

During the second stage of labor — when you're pushing — your health care provider might apply warm compresses or warm mineral oil to the tissue between your vaginal opening and your anus. This might soften the tissue and help prevent tears in the skin.

Although the evidence for warm compresses is stronger, some health care providers also massage the area between the vaginal opening and the anus as labor progresses. This is known as perineal massage.

Your health care provider might even recommend trying perineal massage at home after week 34 of pregnancy. To get started, wash your hands and rub a mild lubricant, such as K-Y jelly, on your thumbs. Place your thumbs just inside your vagina and press downward toward your rectum. Hold for one to two minutes. Then, slowly massage the lower half of your vagina. Repeat the massage once a day for 10 minutes at a time until delivery.

Healing from an episiotomy

If you have an episiotomy or tear during delivery, the wound might hurt for a few weeks — especially when you walk or sit. If the incision or tear is extensive, the tenderness might last longer. Any stitches used to repair the episiotomy will usually be absorbed on their own.

In the meantime, to promote healing:

  • Soothe the wound. Cool the wound with an ice pack, or place a chilled witch hazel pad between a sanitary napkin and the wound.
  • Take the sting out of urination. Pour warm water over your vulva during urination, and rinse yourself with a squeeze bottle afterward.
  • Prevent pain and stretching during bowel movements. Press a clean pad against the wound when passing a bowel movement.
  • Sit down carefully. Tighten your buttocks as you lower yourself to a seated position. Sit on a pillow or padded ring.
  • Use medication as needed. Your health care provider might order prescription medications or recommend an over-the-counter pain reliever or stool softener. However, pain-relieving creams or ointments haven't been found to be effective for episiotomy wounds.
  • Consider complementary treatments. Some research suggests that lavender might help relieve pain after a tear or episiotomy. If your health care provider approves, add a few drops of lavender essential oil to your bath water or apply the oil directly to the tissue between your vaginal opening and your anus.

While you're healing, expect the discomfort to progressively improve. Contact your health care provider if the pain intensifies, you develop a fever or the wound produces a pus-like discharge. These could be signs of an infection.

Accept some uncertainty

Share your thoughts about episiotomy with your health care provider during your prenatal visits and again when labor begins. Remember, though, it's important to go into labor with an open mind. It'll take time for the baby to stretch the vaginal tissues to allow delivery, and sometimes the baby needs to be delivered before the vaginal tissues can stretch on their own.

Count on your health care provider to respect your wishes about episiotomy — and to let you know when it's the safest option for you or your baby.

July 30, 2015 See more In-depth