Contrary to popular belief, most of the so-called “damage” done to a woman’s vagina does not happen during childbirth. It happens during pregnancy.
Picture your pelvic girdle. Here, I’ll help.
That opening in the middle? That’s where your baby exits your body (what you see behind the opening is your spine leading down to your sacrum and tailbone). Picture that large hole in the middle as not facing front to back, but on an angle and more up and down–the baby descends through that opening, and the muscles (not pictured) both keep the uterus and other organs from sagging downward during pregnancy and also help to push the baby out of your body when the time is right. (Note: the same muscles help you hold it when you need to go to the bathroom and they help you experience sexual pleasure).
Next, picture the muscles in the area. Wait, you don’t know what they look like? Click here to see them (a new window will open). The muscles in this region are like a hammock. They cradle, support, and help align the bones and organs in the region. They assist in using the bathroom and “holding it” too.
Now, think about what happens to your body during pregnancy. Your uterus grows from the size of a grapefruit to the size of a watermelon. You not only increase the weight load experienced by your pelvic and vaginal musculoskeletal region, but you also change the way your weight is distributed. If you were a gymnast, dancer, or avid yogi, you probably began pregnancy with a pretty strong set of muscles in the pelvic region. But even these more prepared people will experience stress on the entire region during pregnancy.
The goals of this post are to do two things.
1. Explain what you can do to build muscle, alignment, and stability in your pelvic region. This will lead to (a) less damage during pregnancy, (b) lower risk of incontinence, (c) being better equipped to push a baby out of your uterus into the world, (d) faster and more complete recovery.
2. Give nutrition tips for creating strong supple muscles and tissues in the pelvic region that will make childbirth “easier” and the vagina less likely to tear.
Honestly, no one wants to talk about this, but most women want to know about it. I can’t guarantee that if you follow this advice you’ll experience no damage and no vaginal tears during pregnancy and/or childbirth. I can tell you with full confidence, that the tips I’m sharing are known to give benefit in the specific ways noted here. We can’t really measure the difference between what the damage would have been if you didn’t do it–and the truth is, some of this is genetic.
First, ask your mom and other female relatives about their experiences. Most people like to tell you all about what they went through!
(Note: I’d avoid chatting with people who are likely going to make it sound awful, horrible, or scary).
Second, examine your lifestyle. Make the general and dietary improvements listed below. Then incorporate relevant exercises. When you go into labor, you can feel assured that you did as much as you could do to set your vagina up for a positive experience!
Tip 1: Do Kegels. I know, you hear about this all the time, and no one really does it. Actually–that’s not true! Some people do kegels regularly. If you can’t seem to manage adding this routine to your day, download an app that will help remind you (there are several to choose from). Kegels are important. They strengthen the pelvic floor muscle. This muscle is so important to both childbirth and your long-term vaginal/pelvic health. You’ve probably heard of women who have problems with incontinence after childbirth. Strengthening the kegels can prevent this and also treat incontinence that is occurring.
Tip 2: Do Squats. Doing squats helps to strengthen your gluteus muscles. These muscles are so important during pregnancy and childbirth because they support both the increasing size/weight of your uterus (and all that goes with it), and they also help offset the stress created by the change in weight distribution. Another often overlooked benefit of doing squats during pregnancy (Ina May Gaskin recommends 300 a day!), is that it helps your pelvis align properly. One mistake people often make is that they spend all their focus on pelvic floor exercises (kegels), and doing this can actually make childbirth harder if you don’t balance the action with squats! The position of your pelvis and the alignment of the entire region is important for pushing a baby out in the “easiest” way possible, and it also ensures that your pelvic floor exercises are being applied correctly.
Tip 3: Do Pelvic Tilts or Cat/Cow (if you’re a yogi). On all fours, you simply tilt your pelvis from neutral to anterior position and back (anterior position is like sticking your butt up to the ceiling and arching your low back a bit). It’s not a large movement, but it helps to strengthen your abs, ease low back strain, and improve your posture. Ultimately, pelvic tilts are very important for preparing your body for labor and delivery, beyond just helping support your body during pregnancy.
Tip 4: Sit on the Floor or a on Birthing Ball. Do this all the time if possible. Core strength is pelvic strength’s best wingman. One leads to the other, or conversely, takes away. In addition, sitting on a ball or with good posture (cross-legged) on the floor helps align the pelvis properly, open the hips, and support your growing belly without pain. If you’re not used to doing this, work up to longer periods of time. It’s worth it, and you’ll notice a difference very quickly!
Tip 5: Move More in General. You need to exercise, whether it’s walking or yoga, or biking, or swimming… or anything low impact. It’s important to keep moving so you keep good range of motion in your joints. We usually think of our pelvis region as “immovable” in terms of joints (aside from the hips), but the thing about focusing on moving that helps your pelvis is the improved circulation and lubrication of joints caused by being more physically active. And whether you are aware or not, your pelvic joints do have the ability to move a little bit. Make all your joints healthy, and your pelvis will be healthier too. The stamina and muscles you build will also help you during labor and delivery.
Tip 6: Eat More Foods from the Sulfur Group. Without getting too technical here, sulfur makes your connective tissue more elastic and helps it recover faster from damage. Foods in this group include: broccoli, cauliflower, onions, garlic, cabbage, brussels sprouts, and asparagus. Eat at least 3 cups of these per day! There’s a compound in these foods called MSM (which you can take as a supplement when you’re not pregnant), that will make you significantly more flexible, and it will improve the health of your hair, skin, and nails too. You can take this up until you get pregnant, but then you’ll need to rely on the actual foods that contain it to help you in this department. The bottom line is that more elastic tissues make your musculoskeletal system more resilient during pregnancy and also help you push a baby out of your tiny vagina without damaging it—it helps your vaginal muscles, tissues, and related joints stretch and move, and then rebound back to “normal” afterward.
Tip 7: Stay Hydrated. Every cell in your body contains fluid. Fluid conducts electricity (nerve impulses), helps cells carry out all of their functions, and assists in delivering nutrients and carrying away waste in your blood and lymph. Your vaginal tissues are not exempt from this, and your vagina will be healthier and more resilient if you are hydrated.
Tip 8: Eat an Anti-Inflammatory Diet. This may seem a bit too general to apply to your vagina, but really, it’s very important. You need to cut down on processed foods, sugar, and white flour, and increase the amount of nutritious whole foods you eat. I swear this will make your vagina healthier. There are so many nutrients that contribute to the health of your tissues, and processed and inflammatory foods just don’t help. For example, Vitamin C helps tissues stay healthy and repair faster. Healthy fats strengthen the walls of your cells and balance hormones that keep your cells supple and lubricated well. Calcium and Potassium are important for muscle contraction. The list goes on! Processed inflammatory food doesn’t contain enough nutrients.
Tip 9: Decide on Your Birth Plan and Make Sure Your Doctor is Aware of What You Want. I’m not going to tell you what to put in it, but if you think you want a natural unmedicated childbirth with no episiotomy and a cesarean section only under certain circumstances, and you don’t tell your doctor, you may not get what you want when the time comes. I suggest you take a birthing class. The Bradley Method and Hypnobirthing are awesome approaches to childbirth that will help you be in charge of the experience. This will, no doubt, lead to you playing more of a role in how your vagina is protected (or not) while you’re in labor and delivery.
Bonus Tip: Do perineal massage to support your healthy perineal tissue, take warm baths with essential oils, and keep your vaginal area well-hydrated. You can do this simply with coconut oil (my favorite because it is anti-bacterial), or you can add essential oils and/or other ingredients to it. My favorite recipe is found here (for this purpose I’d use lavender oil and frankincense oil in the recipe).
Some of the tips are more general, and some are very specific. I’m very confident that if you integrate all of these tips into your lifestyle while you’re pregnant, you will decrease the risk of damage to your vagina. Please work with your doctor on a specific plan for you–this is a general list that doesn’t take into account your specific health!
Will you please share your experience with birth and how it affected your vagina?
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