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How long do stitches stay in after birth?

The length of time taken for stitches to heal will depend on the reason you need them.

  • It tends to take between 2 and 4 weeks for perineal stitches to heal, but everyone is different, and you may find it takes longer.
  • If you have had stitches due to a caesarean, you’ll generally heal in around 6 weeks, but in certain cases it can take up to 12.

Why you might need stitches

Although your body prepares for birth in many ways, it is still very common for new mums to need stitches after labour. There are a number of reasons for needing stitches, such as:

  • The area between your vagina and back passage (your perineum) overstretched and tore during labour.
  • The doctors made a small cut to your perineum (an episiotomy) to help make room for your baby.
  • You gave birth via caesarean.
Tears are more common in first-time vaginal births. If your doctor or midwife suspects that you might be at risk of a tear, they will discuss an episiotomy with you. This might happen for a number of reasons:

  • The birth requires the use of forceps
  • Your baby is in the breech (not head-first) position
  • The baby is in distress and needs to be delivered quickly
  • You have a long labour and are becoming tired
  • Delivery needs speeding up due to serious health conditions such as heart disease
Regardless of why you needed stitches, the most important thing is that you understand how to care for them and help them heal.

How will the stitching be done?

  • For minor tears, you will usually be stitched in the room where you gave birth. Your midwife will use a local anaesthetic to numb the area and will carefully stitch up the tear using a ‘running stitch’. Most maternity wards will use dissolvable stitches so that there is no need to have them removed.
  • For more severe tears you might be taken to an operating theatre where you will be given a local or general anaesthetic, and an obstetrician will stitch the cut.
  • Speak to your midwife about your options if you’re planning a home birth.

Soothing pain caused by stitches

Episiotomy stitches can be quite sore at first, but there are some things you can do to help soothe the pain.

  • Cool temperatures will both ease the pain and help reduce swelling in the area. One way of doing this is to sit in a shallow bath of cold water – just make sure you pat your stitches dry with a clean towel afterwards. You can also use a cold gel pack wrapped in a clean flannel – but don’t leave it on for more than half an hour, and wait an hour between applications.
  • Painkillers are an obvious but very helpful way to ease discomfort. It’s a good idea to talk to a doctor about the best painkillers for you, as some are not suitable for use when breastfeeding.
  • The pressure on your perineum when going for a poo can be painful – try placing a clean pad over the cut and press gently as you pass the stool.
  • If you are finding it painful to sit, you could try using a Valley Cushion. These are specially designed inflatable cushions that make sitting down a little more comfortable.
  • If urinating is painful, try going in the shower or pouring warm running water over the area to ease stinging.
  • Many women who have had stitches find sex painful for the first few months. If this is the case, talk to your partner and take as long as you need to heal before having sex again.

Ways to help stitches heal

  • Keep the area clean and dry – try giving yourself a quick wash with a spray bottle full of water. Simply squirt a few times a day and dry yourself gently.
  • Wipe your bottom gently from front to back to reduce the risk of infection.
  • Take it easy – have regular rest periods and keep physical activity to a minimum.
  • Do pelvic floor exercises as often as you can to increase blood flow to the area and encourage healing.
  • Change sanitary pads regularly and make sure they don’t rub against your stitches.
  • Eat plenty of fibre and stay hydrated with lots of water to avoid constipation so you’re less likely to need to push when you go to the loo.

What should I do if I feel there is a problem with my stitches?

Sometimes, regardless of how well you look after them, there can be complications with stitches. If you experience any of the following, it’s a good idea to contact your doctor or midwife as soon as possible:

  • Unusual pain or a bad smell in the area
  • High temperature
  • Severe lower abdominal pain
  • A burning or intense stinging pain when weeing
  • Having to rush to the toilet with the urge to poo
  • Being unable to control your bowels when passing wind
  • Bleeding more than you’d expect, or passing clots

The most important thing is that you rest and heal, so try not to expect too much of yourself while you wait for the tear to get better. Remember to put your feet up, but move around occasionally to ensure you’re getting blood to the area to help with healing.

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