Naturally, after a woman has given birth, her vagina changes. It may feel enlarged or wider. It may also feel sore and even dry.
It is therefore not surprising when you hear women, especially new mothers, asking their doctors questions like:
- Does the vagina remain the same after childbirth?
- Is it true that after delivery vagina becomes loose?
- What happens to my body after delivery?
- How do I tighten my vagina after childbirth?
Of course, these are valid concerns because most women after delivery do want to get back to their normal routine including having sex with their partners. And they want to make sure that everything down there is okay before having intercourse. So, it’s normal.
The vagina is structured in such a way that it can expand and contract.
When a woman gets pregnant many hormones are released and the most important is progesterone. When the baby is ready to be born, a cascade of hormonal reactions is activated, estrogen and relaxin along with other important substances are released.
Estrogen increases the blood flow to the vagina to keep the vaginal tissue elastic. It is estrogen that makes it possible for the vagina to expand and contract. That is why when a woman gives birth, the vaginal walls are able to stretch to allow the child to pass through.
Relaxin (as the name tells) relaxes the pelvic ligaments and softens and widens the cervix to allow the newborn baby to make his/her exit from the womb into the world. These two hormones make it possible for a woman to have a vaginal birth.
- Soreness in the vaginal area
- Vaginal dryness
- Vaginal laxity (a loose vagina).
It is normal to have a swollen vagina after birth, obviously because of all the stretching. And even though your perineum remains intact after delivery, you’ll still experience some soreness because the area becomes tender from the stretching.
You may continue to experience this vaginal discomfort for about 5 weeks, but it should alleviate as the days go by. What you can do is try to ease the pain and the soreness by placing an ice pack on the area. It may also help to sit on a pillow or any other soft surface.
If during a vaginal delivery, you sustain perineum tears spontaneously or via an episiotomy, you may experience pain and soreness. Perineum tears require stitches, but not all tears require stitches as they are considered mild and can heal on their own.
Perineum tears are natural tears, which occur during childbirth. When the skin or soft tissue of the perineum suffers too much strain, it tears. This can happen if the head of the fetus is larger than the size of the vaginal opening.
An episiotomy is when a doctor makes a small surgical incision in the perineum (the soft tissue between the anus and the vaginal opening) to increase the size of the opening to allow the baby to comfortably pass through.
With perineum tears, they can take up to 14 days to heal or less if the severity of the lacerations was considerable low after childbirth. Your doctor may also prescribe antibiotics and painkillers.
It is also important that you take care of the wound by cleaning it well to prevent the risk of infection.
When you sustain perineum tears during childbirth, the tears may be severe or not. There are four types of perineum tears.
- First-degree – skin lacerations of the perineum or vaginal mucosa with no muscle damage
- Second-degree – lacerations extend to the muscles of the vagina and perineum
- Third-degree – damage to the anal internal and external muscles
- Fourth-degree – damage to the anal sphincter complex and lacerations extend to the rectum or anal canal.
During labor, the vagina stretches as the baby’s head tries to pass through the vaginal opening. During this process, the perineum, vagina and the cervix undergo a lot of strain. If the strain becomes too high, the perineum and the vagina may suffer some lacerations as the baby continues to try push through the vaginal opening.
If this is the case, you should expect to experience quite a lot of discomfort. But with good postnatal perineal care, you should be good as new in a couple of weeks.
Proper care of your vagina after a natural birth is extremely important, especially if you have vaginal stitches after childbirth.
The last thing you want is the stitches to tear or getting the wound infected. So here are some dos and don’ts of vaginal care after childbirth.
The idea of exercising after childbirth, especially to new mothers, may seem a bit much. But when you exercise after childbirth this helps with the healing process. You can start with simple exercises such as walking. The key is to keep the exercises light and simple.
Also, exercise the pelvic floor by doing kegels exercises. This helps tone your vaginal muscles and other muscles of the pelvic floor returning them to their shape and size before childbirth. These exercises also help prevent postpartum urinary incontinence (involuntary urine leakage).
- Clean with water
When you are taking a bath make sure to avoid using harsh soaps. Also, use water to clean your vaginal area after you use the toilet. Avoid using tissue to wipe yourself even if it is urine. Instead, use a peri-wash squirt bottle and squirt warm water around your vaginal area from front to back, then dry the area with the cotton towel.
Some women use dryers to dry the area. This is something you should avoid doing as it damages the tissues and slows down healing.
- Cold therapy
To alleviate the pain and soreness around your vaginal area, place an ice pack or cold pack on the area for about 15 minutes. You can take some ice and wrap it around a clean thin cloth or purchase cold packs. Depending on how sore you feel, you can do this a couple of times every day.
- Take warm baths
Instead of showers, take warm baths. Add oils that have pain-reducing and antiseptic properties, such as lavender and chamomile for relief. It is also a great way to relax tired and aching muscles.
- Go herbal
When you are battling with a disorder, illness or infection, using herbs can really alleviate any symptoms you may be experiencing owing to your health condition. You can never go wrong with herbs because they are natural and contain a lot of healthy properties. But don’t forget about possible allergies that they may cause.
Arnica also referred to as wolfsbane or leopard’s bane is a herb that is known to reduce pain and swelling. It is also said to stimulate tissue repair.
So this is something you may want to try, but it is important to note that there is a paucity of studies on the herb and its effects. So you might want to consult your doctor first before using it.
- Don’t use tampons - using tampons increases your risk of an infection. Instead, use maternity pads instead of ordinary sanitary ones. The former are longer, softer, and much more absorbent. But make sure to change the pads frequently to avoid getting an infection. It is recommended to change pads every 1-2 hours during the first several days and every 3-4 hours later on.
- Avoid using bathing soaps or shower gels that contain harsh chemicals when showering.
- Do not use tissue to wipe yourself after using the bathroom as this may increase the soreness and aggravate the pain around your vaginal area. Use warm water to clean up and cotton towels for drying.
- Avoid wearing tight clothes.
- Avoid using any lotions or creams that contain steroids because they are known to delay the healing process.
- Do not ignore the pain around your vaginal area if it persists for a long time. Seek immediate medical attention if the pain persists even after taking prescription medication and taking proper care of your vaginal area.
For a normal vaginal birth, it takes about 6-8 weeks to recover. But if you had complications after vaginal delivery, such as vaginal tears, it may take longer to recover depending on the severity of your condition.
This should not get you all stressed out and frustrated. Let your body heal. Relax more, keep to a healthy diet, exercise and enjoy spending time with your bundle of joy.