I am working on a series of posts covering embarrassing questions that women often have concerning pregnancy, birth and postpartum. If you have a question you would like covered, I would love to hear it. You can e-mail me at mamabirth09 (at) yahoo (dot) com.
birth classes. But even when nobody asks I think a lot of women WONDER what will change with their body "down there" after they have given birth. Most are just too afraid or embarrassed to ask.
I think there are a few ways to approach this topic and a few things to think and talk about.
First~ Our bodies are meant to and designed to stretch. I know that the stretching required to birth a seven or eight or even ten pound baby sounds absolutely mind boggling when you have never done it before. Probably at one time it hurt to just make love, and a baby is much bigger than that. Nevertheless, you body is designed to birth. The tissues in the vagina and surrounding areas fill with blood, they stretch and they move.
Then, surprisingly enough, they go back to their original shape. Now a baby is pretty big, so it does take some TIME for your body to bounce back. (And there are a lot of factors, which we will talk about later.) Care providers often recommend that you not have intercourse for about six weeks after giving birth.
No matter how wonderful your birth was, having a baby is a big deal and it is a big deal for your body. It needs time to recover and return to normal. If you were to look at your vaginal area in the first few days and weeks after giving birth it will probably look different than it did before you had a baby. Healing takes TIME. There are a lot of reasons to rest and recover after giving birth. There are a lot of reasons to wait to make love after having a baby. Letting the tissues heal and go back to normal is one of them.
Often by the six week mark the tissues in the perineum have healed, swelling has subsided, bleeding has stopped and if there was tearing or stitches, it has healed too.
(Is anybody else just PRAYING that my dad isn't reading this post right about now, because I sure am. Dad- stop reading!)
The best comment I have ever heard on this subject came from a reader on the blog. She mentioned that it is strange how men never worry that their penis will be ruined after they have an erection, but women routinely worry that their lady parts will be permanently stretched out after having a baby.
She is right. A penis can get bigger and can shrink back down with no ill effects. A vagina can stretch and move and then go back to normal too. Your partner was designed to do that, and you are designed well too. Sometimes, yes, your vagina will go back to a "new normal". There are many factors at play here which should all be covered below.
~A second factor in in how your body and your vagina recover after giving birth is just how the birth goes. Was giving birth traumatic? Did you tear badly? Did mom have an episiotomy? While it is rare to tear badly (probably only about 10% of women have a 3rd or 4th degree tear) it DOES happen. Women who have bad tearing (a third or fourth degree tear that extends through muscle or into the sphincter) will probably take longer to heal. Some women report that extensive tearing can cause them to have pain for about six months and some even report that things are never quite the same for them during intercourse.
Some women choose to not be stitched for tears after giving birth while some prefer it and feel that it will help the tissues heal more as they were. (Personally I always ask to be stitched, even if the tear is just skin. Others disagree. I think the tendency to avoid stitching things up can become a problem later in life.)
There are some things that women report help PREVENT deep tears though. Some things that seem to help are:
~ Choosing a care provider who does not perform episiotomies routinely.
~ Birth in a position of your choosing, using gravity or lying on your side rather than on your back or in stirrups.
~ Preparing your body for birth by squatting and strengthening your pelvic floor with kegels.
~ Birthing unmedicated or allowing the epidural to wear off for the end of labor so that you can push with control and can feel the ring of fire and "back off" during crowning.
While none of these things are a sure fire way to prevent vaginal damage, they do tend to help minimize the chance of a bad tear and thus a longer recovery.
~A third factor to consider is your relationship with your partner. The truth is that in a loving relationship this shouldn't be a huge issue. Pregnancy and birth will almost undoubtedly CHANGE your body in many ways. Having a baby means that your body and your life and your soul will never be quite the same again. Some women have stretch marks, others have scars, breast changes are typical, weight gain and weight loss, even loose skin are all signs that we have grown and given life.
Hopefully a relationship in which a child has been born will be one of respect, love, giving, compassion and understanding. Even men get stretch marks, lose their hair, get older, go gray, gain weight and CHANGE as they age and care for their families. Having children helps us focus on some things that are more important than our appearance and our skin.
~A fourth thing to talk about when considering the recovery of your body postpartum is exercise. Many women report that doing kegels really helps their recovery and especially helps their vaginal area return to it's normal tightness after giving birth. (I realize that kegels are going out of style in certain circles. I think this is foolish, but feel free to ignore me.) It does make sense that the act of birth requires recovery, even rehab for our bodies. It also requires REST in the first few weeks after giving birth.
Getting up and doing, lifting, running, over-exerting ourselves too soon (before that six week mark) may seem like a good idea at the time, and may even be necessary. But if you push your body too hard too soon after giving birth you will likely pay for it. Give yourself a chance to rest and heal.
The short answer to the question, "Will my vagina go back to normal after having a baby?" is YES, it will. The female body wasn't meant to be broken in two by the act of birth. If this were the case our species would have been short lived and wouldn't have ever reached this point of population. Obviously we work and are capable of giving birth numerous times. Not only are women capable of giving birth- they are capable of satisfying their partners AFTER they have had a baby!
Yes, you will recover. Yes, you will heal. Yes, you will look the same again. Giving birth doesn't ruin us or our bodies or our vaginas.
(Please feel free to leave your thoughts, comments, and tips below. Unless you are a pervert who just Googles the word "vagina" for creepy reasons. In that case, go away.)