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Your healthcare provider may prescribe opioids to help you manage your pain while recovering from childbirth, particularly if you had a c-section.
Effective pain management is critical to your recovery. In addition to keeping you comfortable, pain medications can reduce your risk of certain complications and speed your healing.
But if you’re taking opioids, it's important to minimize your risk of becoming addicted to them. As soon as you no longer need opioids for pain relief, switch to a prescription NSAID, such as high-dose ibuprofen, or to regular over-the-counter pain medication, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Below are suggestions for alternative ways to manage pain after giving birth.
Non-opioid prescription medications
Ask your healthcare provider about prescription-strength nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen. These drugs may be all you need for postsurgical pain and you can't become addicted to them.
Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicines
Acetaminophen (Tylenol) and NSAIDs like ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin are available at the drugstore. Ask your doctor about how to take them in combination for more effective pain relief.
(Note that some opioid medications contain acetaminophen. Make sure you don't take any extra acetaminophen when taking these combination drugs because too much can cause liver damage.)
Heat and cold therapy
You may experience cramping as your uterus contracts back to its normal size. Try applying a heating pad or a hot water bottle to your abdomen for relief. If you had a c-section, heat on your incision will also ease the pain.
If you had a vaginal birth, the area between your vagina and your rectum (perineum) will be tender and may be injured. Studies show that applying an ice pack to the area for 10 to15 minutes reduces pain. See our article on postpartum perineal pain for more ways to relieve this kind of discomfort.
Cold packs are also helpful for treating the pain of breast engorgement.
In the hospital, you may be given a sitz bath, which is a small plastic basin that fits over your toilet seat. You fill it with water and sit in it to ease perineal pain and hemorrhoids. (You can also buy one at the drugstore.)
A cold sitz bath may be more effective for relieving postpartum pain in the perineum than a warm sitz bath, but feel free to experiment with the temperature as some women may find warm water more relaxing.
Your body works hard during labor and your muscles might be sore afterward, especially in your hips and back. Massaging these areas improves blood flow and reduces inflammation. Massage can also ease pain from a c-section and promote relaxation for better sleep.
Practitioners of this ancient technique stimulate specific points on the body by inserting very thin needles into the skin. Acupuncture is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for pain relief.
(Research also shows that acupuncture may reduce postpartum depression.)
Studies show that lavender essential oil can reduce pain. Buy it online or at a natural foods store, then add a few drops to a diffuser and inhale the steam in a closed room.
If you don't have a diffuser, add 10 drops of the oil to a bowl of steaming water. Hang your head over the bowl and cover it with a towel. Breathe in the steam for up to 10 minutes. Or you can put a few drops of oil onto a cotton ball and hold it under your nose.