As you anxiously await the birth of your baby and watch your belly grow, it’s only natural to start wondering how the delivery of this multi-pound baby will affect your vagina after birth. Will your vagina really be able to stretch enough to accommodate your infant’s head? Will your perineum (the tissue between the vaginal introitus — aka vaginal opening — and the anus) stretch or tear on its own? Or will your practitioner deem it necessary to do an episiotomy (an incision in the perineum to allow the baby to come out — don’t worry, they’re very rare these days!)? And how long will it take for your vagina to heal after delivery? Just as every labor and delivery is different, so is every woman. But knowing what to expect and how to help things along will ease your mind…and stretch the possibilities.
How the vagina is made for childbirth?
Though it’s hard to imagine, a baby really is able to make his way through the birth canal and out the vaginal opening. Your body is made to do this! In fact, it’s been preparing for this moment since the beginning of your pregnancy by releasing these pregnancy hormones:
- Estrogen, which increases blood flow to the folds of the vagina so that this elastic connective tissue is better able to expand and stretch during childbirth as you push.
- Relaxin, which helps your body to relax and loosen the ligaments and joints in your pelvis so it’s able to expand and create space for your baby to make his grand entrance.
Vaginal stretching during birth
Just how much vaginal stretching you experience depends on many variables, including:
- The size of your baby
- Your genetics
- Whether or not you did pelvic floor exercises during pregnancy to tone those muscles in advance of childbirth
- The circumstances of the birth (how long you pushed and whether forceps or vacuum extraction were used, to name the most common factors)
- How many deliveries you’ve had before (meaning how toned or previously stretched your vaginal opening already is — each progressive birth will likely stretch your vagina a tiny bit more)
If you have a vaginal delivery and the perineum does not tear:
You can expect to feel sore and uncomfortable immediately after delivery. Even if your perineum was left intact during baby’s arrival, the area has still been stretched and bruised. Most women tend to feel some mild to not-so-mild vaginal discomfort for about three to five weeks. The pain may be worse when you cough or sneeze, and you may even find it hurts to sit down for a few days — but the pain should dissipate with each passing day.
If the perineum tears during delivery or you have an episiotomy:
You’ll feel sore and experience some burning due to the laceration (which usually requires stitches). The wound will take about seven to 10 days to heal and may be tender for several weeks, so try to take it easy if you can. If the stitches heal easily, you should expect the pain to be gone within six weeks. Learn more about tears and lacerations here.
If you have a Cesarean section:
If you don’t push beforehand, you shouldn’t expect any stretching of the vagina after birth. If, however, you push before the C-section, the baby puts a lot of pressure on your perineum, cervix and entire vaginal area (and your practitioner will be stretching and massaging the perineum to help open the pathway). So your vagina may very well get strained as you push — especially if you’ve succeeded in getting the baby close to crowning — and you may experience some vaginal stretching and discomfort post-delivery. But if the baby’s head never makes its way through the vaginal opening, stretching should be minimal.
No matter how your birth went down, your doctor will likely tell you to hold off on sex until about six weeks post-birth — though your practitioner may give you the green light sooner or later than that. You’ll also need to avoid inserting tampons (or any other foreign object) until you’ve had your six-week postpartum appointment with your practitioner and she’s determined that you’re completely healed. Doing so before the vaginal area has healed could cause an infection. In the meantime, try these tips to relieve postpartum perineal pain.
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