What Happens to Your Vagina After Pregnancy?

woman smiling and pregnant
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Your body goes through a lot of changes during pregnancy, from stretch marks to a bigger bra size to cravings and morning sickness. Growing and accommodating an entire human being (or more!) is a task that definitely isn't always easy, and your body will change as a result.

And while some changes you can clearly see in your body, like that dark line that can show up on your stomach (thanks, pregnancy hormones!), other changes in your body may not be as visible. Many women might wonder what to expect from the vagina after pregnancy. Will your vagina change as a result of pregnancy? Will delivery "stretch out" your vagina? What will it look like after having a baby? Here are some of the changes, from function and appearance, and how to strengthen your vagina through pregnancy.

How Will My Vagina Change After Pregnancy?

To answer this question, let's go back to basic biology here. Your vagina is a structure that is inside your body, not out. Anything that you see on the outside, including your labia (the folds or "lips"), clitoris, and mons pubis (the mound where pubic hair grows) are actually parts of your vulva, not ​the vagina. So when people talk about your vagina changing with and following pregnancy, they are actually referring to the inner structure, the canal that actually accommodates the baby during delivery.

The vaginal opening is that same opening that menstrual blood passes through and during delivery. Things such as stretching, tears, and rips can occur alongside the vaginal opening. Things like rips and tears can temporarily change the appearance of your vulva, but usually, there are no noticeable differences in your vagina at first glance after birth because the vagina is housed inside your body.

Will Your Vagina Be More 'Stretched Out' After Pregnancy?

Your vagina stretches during birth in order to be able to let the baby pass through the birth canal. One study found that the pelvic floor muscles involved during birth can stretch by over three times their normal amount. That's a lot of stretching!

Fortunately, however, a woman's vagina is designed to stretch and accommodate a baby and after delivery, the tissue will usually shrink back down to is a pre-pregnancy state. The vagina can get "looser" after having a baby as a result of the pelvic floor muscles that surround and control the vagina getting stretched out. This change can be more pronounced based on several factors, such as how large your baby is, any complications during delivery, and how many babies you have already delivered.

Change in Appearance

Most changes in the appearance of your vulva and vaginal opening that can occur after pregnancy are only temporary. Giving birth may cause swelling or discoloration from the pregnancy or the process of giving birth. The swelling and discoloration can occur whether you deliver via C-section or vaginal birth, because of the pregnancy hormones and depending on how much labor you have been through, the labor process itself can lead to swelling.

If you've had a rip or tear while delivering, that will also change the appearance of your vulva temporarily. And while they are less common than they used to be, in some cases, episiotomies are necessary in some cases to help make room for the baby. An episiotomy is when a doctor or midwife makes a small incision in the perineum(the skin that connects the anus to the vaginal opening) to create more room for the baby to pass through. In general, an episiotomy heals in about three to six weeks and in some cases, it can leave a scar. How much scar tissue is left will depend on how much of the perineum was involved and if there was any other injury to the tissue. Many times, however, the scar tissue is not noticeable and does not affect your vagina's appearance or function. 

Change in Function

In general, your vagina's function will not change as a result of pregnancy or delivery. However, there can be instances where your pelvic floor muscles that control the vagina are affected. The pelvic floor muscles are muscles that surround and support the bladder and vagina, so they can be injured or weakened during birth or from the strain of pregnancy. In some cases, the pelvic floor muscles are damaged or weakened, leading to complications such as bladder dysfunction or uterine prolapse. One of the most common issues that women have, for example, is urinary incontinence. Some women might find after birth that they leak urine, especially with strenuous activity, such as jumping or sneezing. And unfortunately, there have been a lot of "jokes" about urinary incontinence with motherhood that contribute to the problem of women thinking that it is "normal" to leak urine after having a baby. It's not normal and if you experience urine leakage after having a baby, there are ways to help strengthen your pelvic floor muscles.

 

Your pelvic floor muscles also play a role in your sexual function and orgasm. Some women do experience a lack of sexual satisfaction or feeling like their vagina doesn't quite "work" the same way it used to as a result of weakened pelvic floor muscles. Some women may also find that sex is painful or uncomfortable after having a baby. The nerves in the pelvis can also be damaged or changed during the pregnancy and delivery process. One study found that 91.3% of women reported some kind of sexual problem after having a baby, but the reasons for that problem can range from everything from sleep disruptions from the baby to how a woman feels about her vagina. 

One of the most damaging things that can happen during a vaginal birth is injury due to medical intervention, especially the use of forceps. Fortunately, most doctors don't use forceps anymore, but the combination of increased weight from the baby, the force of contractions, and the type of labor and delivery a woman has all come into play to how her pelvic floor will be affected through pregnancy and delivery. 

What You Can Do 

You have probably heard it before, but Kegel exercises can be beneficial to help strengthen weakened pelvic floor muscles. Kegels can provide some benefit and it's also important to focus on strengthening and supporting your entire pelvic floor during your pregnancy to help keep those muscles strong. Many types of exercises that utilize your core are safe to perform during pregnancy and can help engage the entire pelvic floor to keep it strong. Don't start any new strenuous exercises, of course, but if you've been exercising before your pregnancy, keep it up because there are many benefits. 

A 2003 study in Ontario also found that postpartum pelvic floor exercise programs are very helpful in decreasing postpartum urinary incontinence and pelvic floor strength. The key is that the most effective programs are those run by trained health professionals and that include a vaginal resistance device. effective. In other words, it can be hard to do the exercises on your own, so be sure to speak to your doctor. Pelvic floor therapy may also be an option for you and more doctors and insurance companies are recognizing the benefits of supporting women through and after pregnancy to prevent any future problems. 

In severe cases, surgery may be needed to repair the pelvic floor and/or support any structures that may have dropped, such as the uterus or bladder. And if sex is incredibly painful for you after having a baby, you should definitely talk to your doctor to rule out any complications or infections. 

A Word From Verywell

In general, the vagina is a structure that is designed to accommodate a baby and will not change significantly in structure or appearance after pregnancy. In some cases, however, as a result of damage or weakening of the pelvic floor muscles, a woman might experience changes such as urine continence, bladder dysfunction, or pain during sex. If you experience any of those changes, please speak to your doctor about treatment options. 

View Article Sources
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  • Golmakani, N., Zare, Z., Khadem, N., Shareh, H., & Shakeri, M. T. (2015). The effect of pelvic floor muscle exercises program on sexual self-efficacy in primiparous women after delivery. Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research20(3), 347–353.
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