1. Being a mom
  2. Recovering from birth
  3. Postpartum problems

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What Happens to Your Vagina After You Give Birth: 8 Things New Moms Should Know

Natural changes after childbirth affect your whole body, and the vagina is no exception.

After delivering their baby, most moms want to get back to their normal routine, including having sex with their partners. These common questions might be on their mind:

  • Does the vagina remain the same after childbirth?
  • Is it true that after delivery the vagina becomes loose?
  • What happens to my body after delivery?
  • How do I tighten my vagina after childbirth?

It’s totally normal to want to make sure that everything down there is okay before having intercourse. So, let’s look at some answers.

When a baby is ready for birth, a cascade of hormonal reactions happens, releasing estrogen and relaxin, along with other important substances. 

Estrogen increases blood flow to the vagina, which keeps the vaginal tissue elastic. Estrogen allows the vagina to expand and contract. So, when a person gives birth, the vaginal walls can stretch to allow the child to pass through.  

Relaxin (as the name suggests) relaxes the pelvic ligaments and softens and widens the cervix to allow the baby to exit the womb. These two hormones make a vaginal birth possible.

Although everyone has different personal experiences with pregnancy and birth, there are a few things you can expect for your vagina after birth: 
  • Soreness in the vaginal area
  • Vaginal dryness
  • Vaginal laxity (looseness)

Most people have a swollen vagina after birth because of all the stretching and some superficial tears. Even if your perineum is not affected by the delivery, you’ll still experience some soreness and tenderness from the stretching. 

You may continue to experience this vaginal discomfort for a few weeks, but it should fade over time. You can ease the pain and soreness by placing an ice pack on the area and sitting on a pillow. If you feel tingling and stinging while urinating, you can run warm water over your perineum. Also, you may want to monitor the regularity of your stool to avoid additional discomfort.

Perineum tears are natural tears that occur during childbirth. The perineum is the soft tissue between the anus and the vaginal opening. When the perineum undergoes too much strain, it tears. This can happen if the baby’s head is larger than the vaginal opening and the vaginal walls can’t stretch enough. So, it’s totally normal to experience soreness, discomfort, or swelling after a tear or episiotomy.

For an episiotomy, a health care provider makes a small surgical incision in the perineum to increase the size of the opening. This allows the baby to pass through more easily.  

Perineum tears can take up to 14 days to heal after childbirth. A health care provider may prescribe antibiotics and painkillers. 

It is important to keep the area clean, which can prevent infection. Wash the wound with warm water and pat the area dry after each visit to the toilet. 

Some tears may be superficial and heal on their own, but others require treatment. There are four types of perineum tears:

  1. First-degree – Skin tears of the perineum or vaginal mucosa with no muscle damage. These tears may not require stitches, and they heal on their own in a few weeks.
  2. Second-degree – Tears extend to the muscles of the vagina and perineum. These tears always require stitches, and they heal within a couple of weeks.
  3. Third-degree – Damage to the anal internal and external muscles. This kind requires a surgical repair using anesthesia. The healing process may take more than a few weeks.
  4. Fourth-degree – Damage to the anal sphincter complex and lacerations that extend to the rectum or anal canal. This type requires stitches in the operating room with the use of anesthesia and specialized care.

Сhanges in the vagina after a cesarean may differ from those that follow a vaginal delivery. 

However, people who’ve undergone a cesarean delivery will also experience some vaginal dryness, which is due to the hormonal effects of the postpartum period. Although you may have an abdominal scar, the vaginal recovery process is quicker, as the area has sustained less damage.

Proper care of the vagina after a natural birth is extremely important, especially if you have vaginal stitches. 

Let's take a look at some vaginal care steps to do and avoid after childbirth. 

Dos

  • Exercise

Exercise after childbirth can boost your mood and help tone the muscles of the whole body. Once your doctor gives you the all-clear, you can start with simple exercises such as walking 10 minutes a day. Aim for 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise, but keep it light and simple. 

Also, you can exercise the pelvic floor by doing Kegels. These movements help tone your vaginal muscles and the pelvic floor, restoring their strength. These exercises also help prevent postpartum urinary incontinence (involuntary urine leakage). 

  • Clean with water

When you take a bath or shower, stick to gentle soaps. Also, use warm water to clean your vaginal area after visiting the toilet. Instead of wiping with toilet tissue, which can scratch, use a peri-wash squirt bottle to direct warm water around your vaginal area. Aim the bottle from front to back and then dry the area with a cotton towel. 

  • Try cold therapy

To alleviate the pain and soreness, place an ice pack or cold compress on the vaginal area for about 10–20 minutes. This can be repeated several times a day if necessary. It’s most effective in the first 72 hours after delivery. You can either wrap ice in a thin, clean cloth or purchase cold packs. 

  • Take warm sitz baths

Instead of showers, try warm sitz baths. Sitting in warm, shallow water can help relieve soreness. After checking with your midwife or doctor, you can also add oils that have pain-reducing and antiseptic properties, such as lavender and chamomile, for relief. These baths offer a great way to relax tired or aching muscles. 

  • Go herbal

If you’re experiencing an illness or infection, using herbs can alleviate some symptoms. Make sure to check with your health care provider first, as they can advise you on potential allergies or breastfeeding restrictions. 

  • Avoid tampons, as they increase your risk of infection. Instead, use maternity pads. These sanitary pads are longer, softer, and much more absorbent than standard ones. Change the pads frequently to avoid any bacterial buildup — every one to two hours during the first several days and every three to four hours after that. 
  • Avoid using body soaps or shower gels that contain harsh chemicals or scents when showering. Stick to water to clean any sensitive areas. 
  • Do not wipe with toilet paper after using the bathroom as this may aggravate the pain and soreness around your vaginal area. Use warm water to clean yourself and pat dry with cotton towels. 
  • Avoid wearing tight clothes. Opt for looser underwear made from natural materials.
  • Don’t use any lotions or creams that haven’t been approved by your health care provider. 
  • Do not ignore your pain, especially if it starts suddenly, persists for a long time, or increases. 

For a vaginal birth, most people take about six weeks to recover. People who experienced perineum tears often have a longer recovery time. In general, your body knows how to heal, especially with these comfort tips. When possible, take time to relax, maintain a healthy diet, exercise, and enjoy spending time with your new baby. 

John Nguyen, Hieu Duong.”Anatomy, Abdomen and Pelvis, Female External Genitalia.” NCBI, Bookshelf, Accessed August 10, 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK547703/

“Healthy Lifestyle. Vaginal tears in childbirth.” Mayo Clinic, MFMER, Accessed Oct. 11, 2019, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/labor-and-delivery/multimedia/vaginal-tears/sls-20077129?s=6

“Postpartum Pain Management”, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, FAQ519, Accessed October 2020, https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/postpartum-pain-management

“Exercise After Pregnancy” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, FAQ131, Accessed July 2019, https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/exercise-after-pregnancy

“Postpartum care: What to expect after a vaginal birth.” Mayo Clinic, MFMER, Accessed March 11, 2020, https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/labor-and-delivery/in-depth/postpartum-care/art-20047233

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