Ok, reality check. Giving birth vaginally is gonna take your perineum outside her usual comfort zone.
It can help to prepare with perineal massage and Vitamin E oil during pregnancy, just like it may help to labor in water or to have a skilled midwife support you during second stage so your perineum has time to stretch. And it’s important to inform yourself about female sexuality and sensuality so you understand the conditions your body needs to relax, soften and open during birth.
But, birth is not predictable and despite the best preparation, sometimes perineal tissue may tear. This is especially so with the use of forceps or ventouse, or where women feel rushed or pressured during second stage. Unfortunately, there is nothing like the discomfort of a swollen, tender, stitched perineum to make you feel miserable where the thought of your next wee makes you cry at a time when a newborn is demanding all your attention.
Like I said, reality check.
The great news is there’s something you can do to speed up healing and provide welcome relief as soon as you feel ready after giving birth – herbal baths and/or sitz baths.
‘The way to health is to have an aromatic bath and scented massage every day’ Hippocrates
I’ve long been a fan of the ‘art of bath’. People have used the therapeutic powers of steaming and bathing in herbal waters for centuries. You can too. Postnatal herbal baths and sitz baths are a simple, effective and heavenly way to heal the body following childbirth. Best of all, it’s easy to make your own and doesn’t require a lot of special ingredients. I’m going to tell you how.
What is a sitz bath?
A sitz bath is a strong herbal brew that is used to steam and bathe the perineum after birth to promote healing.
The hot herbal water is poured into a shallow basin or sturdy bucket that can be squatted over or sat upon. The herbal steam increases blood circulation, repairs tissue trauma, soothes and reduces inflammation. As the herbal waters cool you then sit in the basin or pour it into a bath to soak. Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners commonly prescribe sitz baths to assist with complaints such as thrush, cervicitis, perineal tears and haemorrhoids.
Postnatal sitz baths are best enjoyed from the first week after birth, therefore you’ll want to have gathered what you need during late stage pregnancy. Next to Chicken Soup, this is the most thoughtful postnatal present for your pregnant friends: if she has had tearing or an episiotomy she’s gonna love it!
How to make a postnatal sitz bath
Make your herbal blend from any one or a combination of the following fresh or dried herbs and allow about 1-2 cups herbal blend per bath. These are common herbs you may already have in your kitchen or garden. If not you’ll find them easily enough at your local wholefood or health shop.
Chamomile flowers : Calendula flowers : Lavender flowers : Rosemary leaves : Sage leaves : Rose Petals
You’re also going to need sea salt of any kind. I like to use a mix of Himalayan sea salt, Celtic sea salt and Epsom salts but plain old sea salt from the pantry will do fine.
Use a square of muslin and pile your herbs in the centre then tie with twine. Or you could use an old stocking to stuff herbs into, tying off to create a bolus. Don’t pack too tightly so that the herbs have room to expand and release their goodness.
Place in a large saucepan with 2 litres boiling water.
Cover and let sit for 4 hours or overnight.
Pour the herbal brew into a shallow basin or sturdy plastic bucket (boil proof plastic). Squeeze bolus to release all the active ingredients.
Add 1 litre of boiling water and 1 litre of tap water.
If you are using a shallow basin you’ll need to be a little inventive finding a way to squat over the basin. It helps to put the basin in the bath so you can use the bath tub for support and then it’s not as strenuous as it sounds, especially after having a baby. It’s easier if you lean forward a little bit, much more comfy then a deep squat. Give it a dry run you’re not sure. If you use a plastic bucket as long as it is sturdy you can sit on the bucket creating a seal with your bottom. Again try doing this in the bath tub. Take care as the water is hot!
Allow the steam to rise and fumigate your perineum for 10-15 minutes.
If you’re using a shallow basin wait until the waters cool and then sit in the basin and enjoy a sitz bath.
OR, you can pour the herbal brew into a warm bath along with 1 handful of sea salt for a whole body herbal bath. This is where you get to lie back, relax and allow the healing waters to work their magic!
Enjoy 1 Sitz bath per day and give your perineum some love.
Further info & suggestions…
Calendula excels at wound healing. Lavender and Chamomile promote healing and also soothe and calm. Rosemary regenerates cells and helps to improve the blood circulation to the area whilst Sage cleanses, astringes and is antiseptic. Rose is nurturing and mends the emotional wounds. But it really doesn’t take a lot of special ingredients. At the very least if you have nothing else available make up a super strong brew using about 5-6 Chamomile tea bags and use to soak your tush.
The herbal infusion can also be used as a wash or compress. A great suggestion is to combine equal parts herbal infusion with water in a plastic spray bottle and use to spray onto the perineum. This is THE BEST TIP for relieving the stinging of urination and helps keep the area clean.
You can also soak a clean cloth in heated herbal infusion and squeeze over the perineum, or use cotton gauze to make a warm compress that can applied externally to the perineum. Do not use cold or as an ice pack. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, cold slows the blood circulation and creates blood stasis, preventing proper healing and is a big No No!
Finally, the herbal bath promotes postnatal recovery for all women, including caesarean. The herbs that heal the perineum will also help heal your caesarean scar and your baby’s umbilical cord. If you’ve had a c-section it’s still beneficial to steam the womb the perineum as it will help heal the womb, or go straight to good bit, lying back and allowing the healing waters of a herbal bath to work their magic.