This isn’t a fun post to write. I never thought I would write this, and I wish I never had to. But, in order to spare others from years of wondering what on earth happened to them after pregnancy and childbirth, I’ve decided to write it. Now, it’s going to be a little umm, shall we say in depth? We’re talking painful postpartum health conditions here, and we’re talking some stuff that nobody wants to talk about. And this, my friends, is the biggest problem with postpartum care in America.
Nobody talks. Nobody shares what’s going on aside from “oooh I love being a mom!” Most of us love being a mom, of course, but even so, some struggle with severe postpartum anxiety and depression which is not something to be ignored. Others struggle with the changes that have happened to our bodies, and the new aches, pains, and bizarre occurrences that arise after you’ve grown a tiny human inside your body and pushed them out or bravely laid on a table while somebody else took a scalpel to your uterus and pulled your baby out through your abdominal muscles. This is serious stuff, folks.
We’re talking major trauma here, and not just those who have experienced a seriously traumatic birth. These changes can occur even in a completely normal, healthy, and wonderful delivery. Because, you grew a small human inside your body and pushed them out…..you know. Many women experience pain for years postpartum and either think it’s normal or think it’s just something they have to live with. There can be pain when using the restroom, pain during intercourse, pain upon standing, and pain for just no reason at all.
So, I write. I write about these changes in the event that somebody else is struggling silently with pain, that they may find the answers they are looking for and possibly the help that they need. Because, there is nothing wrong with receiving therapy postpartum! Childbirth is a major event that can cause serious damage to your body. There is nothing wrong with wanting to sneeze without peeing your pants. Shall I repeat?
There is nothing wrong with wanting to sneeze without peeing your pants.
Some things we don’t have to live with. Here are six postpartum health conditions you may be struggling with and what to do about them:
(I am no doctor; if you feel you may be struggling with one of these conditions, please consult your trusted provider or midwife to receive a proper diagnosis and care plan.)
The old classic. Basically a swollen blood vessel protruding out of the anus, these uninvited guests show up due to excess pressure, hard stools, straining, and pushing. Can you imagine any of these things happening during pregnancy and childbirth? They can be internal or external, can be single or show up in groups that resemble grapes, and vary in degree of symptoms. They can either be painless or feel like a sharp knife cutting you as you have a bowel movement, throb, sting, and itch for hours after, and may become thrombosed which is very painful. In this case, they look like a large purple knob.
Hemorrhoids often give the feeling of incomplete emptying during a bowel movement. Internal hemorrhoids may protrude and become strangulated, which is a medical emergency. Hemorrhoids do not go away without treatment; however, the symptoms of their presence do subside when the root cause is no longer present.
What to do? Sitz baths, suppositories and hemorrhoid ointment, being sure the stools are soft with diet and supplements (magnesium is good), donut pillows, and in the case of internal hemorrhoids: pushing them back in from whence they came. Not going to lie, this is one reason I’ve used Preparation H full strength lidocaine numbing cream. There are numerous therapies out there for permanent hemorrhoid removal, which will require a doctors prescription and usually numerous treatment sessions. Read more about hemorrhoids HERE.
Vaginal cysts may show up when there has been trauma to the soft tissues during childbirth. During childbirth, many of us unfortunately tear around the vagina and perineum. This may or may not be the cause, but a bartholin cyst can often show up in the labia sometime postpartum. The bartholin glands are located near the vaginal opening, and help with lubrication. If a cyst forms, it can be a small, tender lump that grows into a much larger and very painful mass under the skin. It may come to a head and pop, become abscessed, or it may just hang around and cause you misery.
What to do? More sitz baths, hot compresses, and massage. If it doesn’t go away or is abscessed you may need to talk to your provider about getting it drained or try a home remedy.
Pelvic Organ Prolapse
Sounds fun right? Turns out a prolapse is more common than you might think. A prolapse can occur when either the uterus, rectum, or bladder protrude into the vagina due to a weakening of the muscle. Again, it may be caused by excess pressure, straining, and pushing. It’s not always obvious, as in the case of a serious uterine prolapse during childbirth which is a medical emergency. Other prolapses can occur with a lesser degree of severity, and you may not even know you have one. Some symptoms include a feeling of pressure or fullness, pain, and incomplete emptying of the bladder and bowels, painful intercourse, and incontinence. Most people don’t have symptoms and don’t need any treatment, however it’s still good to know what’s going on with your business in my opinion.
What can be done? Possibly pelvic floor physical therapy to help strengthen the muscles, and of course the gold standard is surgery to repair the tissue. Read more HERE.
An umbilical hernia can occur when the transverse abdominal muscles weaken due to excess pressure and stretching, and allow for the small intestine to protrude through the umbilicus. This is more than just the cute pregnant lady belly button. In these cases, the belly button protrudes very far out and is tender, swollen, and painful to the touch. Any amount of pressure can cause pain and swelling, especially abdominal exercises that work the rectus abdominus muscle. The belly button almost feels as if it could be pushed back in, although it will keep popping out.
What to do? I’m told surgery is the only fix for this, but the jury is still out on that one. I’m trying physical therapy on my abdominal muscles. Read more about it HERE.
Diastasis recti is when the transverse abdominal muscles never fully close, leaving a gap in the abdomen. You can tell if you have it by laying on your back and lifting your head slightly while feeling the line down your abs. If you have diastasis recti, you will feel the opening. This can cause pain, trouble with exercise, incontinence, and the classic mom belly pooch.
Diastasis recti is very common, and fortunately very treatable. Watch this video to get started on proper exercises for diastatis recti, and see a physical therapist for more targeted therapy.
Pelvic Venous Congestion Syndrome
This condition is basically varicose veins in the pelvis, as the veins get backed up and cause swelling, pain, and visible bulges in the vagina, vulva, or inner thigh from pressure and gravity. This is due to dilation of the ovarian vein and valves that don’t work. To truly have this syndrome, pelvic floor pain must be present for at least 6 months. Pelvic venous congestion syndrome is most common in young women with numerous children, and it is thought to be related to the pressure from the uterus during pregnancy. Symptoms include serious pressure in the pelvis, bulging, and pain upon standing or during intercourse that is subsided by lying down.
There are treatments for this condition, and all of them will require a visit to a qualified medical professional.
If any of these conditions sound like something you may be experiencing, don’t hesitate to talk to your midwife, OB, physical therapist, or other trusted healthcare provider. There is no need to suffer in silence. Some changes postpartum are not meant to be lived with nor celebrated. And of course, some are, but seriously, nobody wants to pee their pants all the time.