It’s natural to be nervous about your first trip to the bathroom after delivery. Whether you have a relatively easy or a challenging birth experience, your body will take time to heal and that may make some things you never thought about before giving birth a bit more complicated.
We won’t sugar coat it — using the bathroom after a vaginal delivery can hurt. Many people feel nervous about their first bowel movement, especially after tearing and stitches. Even urination can seem daunting. Many people are not effectively counseled about the difficult process of the first bathroom break after birth, but there are ways to help manage the discomfort.
When at the hospital, most women will receive a gift from the postnatal-gods called a peri-bottle. This little spray bottle can be used to facilitate urination (and more solid bowel movements) long after the hospital stay is over. Fill it up with warm water and make sure to spray before, during, and after urination for best results. Wiping can be especially painful, so try to stick to the spray and blot method for at least a week after birth. Going to the bathroom may be more painful for those who experienced a tear, so ask your healthcare provider about the safest over-the-counter pain medications to use during this time, in case you end up needing them later.
Just like with so many other types of pain, some of the best ways to soothe your body involve applying either heat or cold. During the first 24-48 hours after birth, many people find a cooling pack or an ice pack to the perineum to be very comforting. After that time period, a warm sitz bath is helpful for both cleanliness and comfort.
You can either take a sitz bath in a bathtub or with a sitz bath bowl. Regardless of which option you choose, you can do this 2-3 times a day. Make sure to expose the affected area to the water for 10-20 minutes. If the water starts to feel too cold, refill it. Dry the area gently and if your provider has recommended it, apply a topical treatment.
Now some more information about your options:
Bathtub sitz bath
If you have a bathtub at home, clean your tub well before doing a sitz bath. Fill the clean tub with warm water (a few inches deep), and — depending on what your provider recommends — add in medication or salt. When you’ve filled the bath, lower yourself slowly into the water until the affected area is submerged and breathe deeply. Like when salt gets in a cut, you might feel a stinging sensation at first, but it should ease after a minute or two.
Sitz bath bowl
If you don’t have a bathtub at home, or you’re worried about lowering yourself into one, a sitz bath bowl is a good option — you can find them at most pharmacies. Place your sitz bowl securely on the toilet rim and fill it with warm water (make sure the temperature is comfortable). As with the sitz bath, add in medicine or salt (depending on your provider’s recommendation). The specific way that the bath bowl is filled and emptied varies depending on the brand, so make sure to read the instructions. Lower yourself down until you’re sitting on the bath bowl.
Witch hazel can also be used to relieve pain. It is used most effectively on pads or washcloths. You can buy pre-soaked witch hazel pads, which are usually marketed for hemorrhoid relief, or make your own by soaking pads, and then chilling them in the refrigerator before sticking them in your underwear. If you choose the washcloth route, make sure to use ones you’re not afraid of getting dirty or even throw away. These can be also frozen as well for an even cooler effect.
Urination is sort of imminent after birth, but your first bowel movement might not come for several days after you leave the hospital. Here are some time-tested tips that will allow your body to regulate itself as swiftly and painlessly as possible.
- Hydrate: Water will not only help you out if you’re breastfeeding, but will also act as a natural stool softener.
- Get your fiber: In addition to a fiber supplement, prune juice, raisins, and leafy greens, among others, are excellent sources of fiber to help you keep everything moving in the days and weeks after giving birth.
- Stool softener: Fiber-rich foods help to make your stool soft, but sometimes the natural way just doesn’t cut it. You’ll probably be offered over-the-counter remedies at the hospital or birthing center, but you can also talk to your healthcare provider about other stool-softening medications.
- Remember that a little constipation is natural: Your body’s high levels of progesterone, your digestive system slowing down substantially during birth, and other drugs such as iron supplements or pain relievers can all cause constipation. It can help to eat hydrating fruits (like watermelon), vegetables, and other nourishing foods with high water content.
If you’re really afraid to go because you’ve had a severe tear, your provider should recommend a stool softener and a fiber supplement after delivery.
To ease pain and boost confidence that you won’t burst any stitches, fold a pad in half and hold it next to your perineum or over your stitches for support. This will reduce the pain that occurs from the downward movement of your perineum. You can also heat up baby wipes, prop your feet up on a stool to aid bowel positioning, and talk to your healthcare provider about other positions that might help your body out. Use the stool softeners and fiber supplement to help achieve soft stool that passes easily without straining.
A little pain is natural, but if painful bowel movements continue, talk to your healthcare provider.
This content was reviewed by Dr. Lisa Hickman and Dr. Katie Propst. Dr. Hickman runs the Childbirth Pelvic Floor Disorders Clinic at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. Dr. Propst runs the Postpartum Care Clinic at Cleveland Clinic.
- “Assisted Vaginal Delivery.” ACOG. December 2020. https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Assisted-Vaginal-Delivery.
- Kathleen Rice Simpson and Patricia A Creehan. Perinatal Nursing. The American Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN), Wolters Kluwer, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. 2008. 3rd ed. Web.
- “Taking a Sitz Bath.” Saint Lukes. Saint Lukes. https://www.saintlukeskc.org/health-library/taking-sitz-bath.