Becoming a mother can be one of life’s greatest joys, but, as we all know, labour brings with it several complications.
When putting your birth plan together, you do your best to predict and account for the various situations that you might encounter before, during and after labour.
And, while it’s important to think optimistically about what’s to come, it’s also wise to be as realistic as possible about the complications that might make things more difficult for you.
To help you prepare, we take a look at the most common issues women can face in this exploration of what motherhood could mean for your vagina:
You may have vaginal tearing during labour
During the first stage of labour, your contractions will help your cervix to open (or dilate). You’ll be fully dilated once your cervix has opened out to 10cm, and the second stage of labour will begin.
This is when you’ll need to start pushing your baby out. This is also when vaginal tears *may* happen.
Vaginal tears tend to occur if your baby is pushed out too quickly before the muscles between your vagina and anus (known as the perineum) have had a chance to stretch.
Your midwife or doctor may recommend an episiotomy – a small cut along the perineum – to prevent accidental tearing as that can be more difficult to recover from.
To give your vagina the best chance possible, do regular perineum massages – no more than twice a week – in the run-up to your due date to help stretch the muscles in preparation for labour.
You can do the massage yourself or ask your birthing partner to help you.
Find a team that will support you properly
Whatever happens during labour, it’s important to communicate with the medical professionals helping you.
Unfortunately, as new research by specialist lawyers Bolt Burdon Kemp has uncovered, many women are uncomfortable talking to their doctors about issues surrounding their reproductive health.
For example, the study found that over 1 in 10 women didn’t feel heard, believed or supported when they talk to doctors about issues like reproduction, fertility, and pregnancy.
It’s therefore important to surround yourself with a birthing team you trust, shopping around if you need, to find the right doctor or midwife that listens to you.
Your vagina may go through some transformations
After birth, you’ll probably find your vagina is quite sore and painful. You may also find things are looser down there – say, if you’re unable to hold a tampon in place – but this is because the pelvic floor muscles have become weaker.
Kegel floor exercises can help strengthen those muscles and could also help with any incontinence issues.
Your vagina should start to tighten up again within a few weeks or months, but if anything doesn’t feel quite right, don’t hesitate to see a doctor.
With the research cited above finding that almost half of women (47%) don’t know enough about their reproductive health to know what is normal and what is not, it’s important to be proactive.
Learn as much as you can about what to expect from your body in the days, weeks and months after birth so you know exactly what you might be facing.
You may also find changes in your discharge, changes in the colour of your vulva, vaginal dryness if you’re breastfeeding (because breastfeeding lowers your oestrogen levels), and you may find sex to be more painful.
In general, healthcare professionals recommend waiting four to six weeks before having sex, but it all depends on when you feel ready (and use plenty of lube when you do).
Over a quarter of women are worried about their reproductive health
The research by Bolt Burdon Kemp found that over a quarter of women would say they are quite worried or very worried about their reproductive health.
If you’re in a similar situation, hopefully, the insights above have helped alleviate some of those worries.
After all, whatever stage of pregnancy you are in, it helps tremendously to learn as much about what’s to come as possible, as well as all the options available to you, so you can create a birthing plan that suits you to a tee.
Written by Jennifer Grey.
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