Thawing Out the Truth: Why Ice Packs Aren’t Really Cool for Postpartum Perineal Care

"1950s-style scared housewife looking at frozen peach in ice cube, representing caution against using ice for perineal healing in postpartum"

Congratulations, you’ve made it through the journey of birth, and despite your well-earned period of rest and relaxation, you’re navigating the winding road of healing your postpartum body. One term that may have been mentioned to you as you prepared for this moment is “ice diapers”, or the recommendation to use ice packs on the perineal area to ease discomfort. But wait, before you reach for that polar perineum pack, let’s explore why thawing out might be the better route for your postpartum healing.

Ice, Ice, Maybe?

So, why the chill on ice packs? In recent years, they’ve been hailed as the go-to remedy for soothing soreness and reducing swelling, especially for those with perineal tears or episiotomies. Though there are a few specific instances where ice may help (e.g. actively expanding bruises – also called hematomas), many traditional practices, especially Traditional Chinese Medicine, urge against using ice and recent evidence suggests that it may not be as beneficial as once thought.

The Case Against Cold

Let’s break the ice on this topic. For starters, while ice may provide temporary relief from discomfort, it can also constrict blood vessels, when really, we’re looking for good blood flow to carry oxygen and nutrients to the injured area.

Studies have shown that ice packs do provide some pain relief but that usually only lasts for up to 2 hours. To add to that, evidence also shows that ice users typically needed more pain medication after the ice wore off than those who did not use ice at all. Plus, who wants to feel like they’re sitting on an ice block while trying to bond with their newborn?

Embracing Warmth for Optimal Perineal Healing

So, what’s the hot take on postpartum perineal care? Enter moist heat and infrared heat – the dynamic duo of soothing soreness and promoting healing.

Moist Heat: Steamy Solutions

Picture this: a warm, steamy compress gently embracing your tender perineum, perhaps infused with some Epsom salts and soothing herbs. Moist heat works wonders by increasing blood flow to the area, relaxing muscles, and aiding in tissue repair. Bonus points for its cozy, spa-like vibes – just what the midwife ordered for some postpartum pampering!

You may have heard of Sitz Baths for applying moist heat. This setup usually involves a special bowl designed to insert into your toilet as a way to bathe just your bum. While this setup can work well for some folks, I find that the pressure the bowl generates on the bottom can be irritating. Instead, you can sit in a clean tub of warm water or use a shallow basin or pan (like a roasting pan) that your whole bottom can sit into. 

Whether you choose warm compresses or submerging in warm water, adding Epsom salt is a wonderful way to help reduce swelling. There are also several herbs – like calendula and comfrey – that ease damaged tissues as well. Sitz bath herb blends are pretty widely available these days and if you’re looking for some blends crafted by thoughtful herbalists, check out the selection in our herbal apothecary.

Infrared Heat: Shedding Light on Healing

Step into the spotlight, infrared heat! This time-tested approach may sound a little funny at first but this technique utilizes infrared technology to penetrate deep into tissues, promoting vasodilation and circulation. All that increased circulation is great for getting oxygen and immune cells to the area to help speed up healing. Plus, it’s like getting a warm hug from the sun – without the UV rays and sunburn risk.

Conclusion:

So, there you have it – the scoop on why ice packs might not be the coolest choice for postpartum perineal care. Instead, cozy up to heat (moist or infrared) for a more soothing, effective approach to healing. Your perineum will thank you!

Did you know that at Hatch Midwifery, we regularly help our clients with preparing postpartum compresses and soaks? We even have our own infrared heat lamp that we can take to your house during your postpartum visits so you can experience the benefits of this soothing healing experience. If you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area and want to learn more about our postpartum care, check out or website or schedule yourself for a Meet the Midwife session today!

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