Vaginal Heaviness During Pregnancy
There's no question — pregnancy is an exciting time for most women, but it can bring with it some major discomforts.
From morning sickness to an aching back, sleep deprivation and constant tiredness, pregnancy can take a lot out of you.
While it’s pretty amazing how your body changes shape and adjusts to the growing person inside, there are some less glamorous side effects you don't often hear about.
One of those is pelvic pressure and vaginal heaviness during pregnancy.
Many pregnant women experience pelvic pressure, especially in their last trimester. While this symptom can be anything from mild to downright impossible to live with, unfortunately it’s a normal part of pregnancy.
What Causes Pelvic Pressure?
During your third trimester, your body releases a hormone called relaxin in relatively high levels. The purpose of relaxin is to loosen the ligaments in your pelvis so the joints can separate slightly. This allows flexibility in the pelvis for your baby’s head to pass through during birth.
The weight of your baby added to the effects of relaxin on your pelvic floor tends to cause those muscles to stretch and weaken, all of which contribute to feeling pelvic pressure during late pregnancy.
Over the course of your pregnancy, your blood volume increases by about 50%. The increased blood flow can cause your vagina and labia to become swollen and feel tender. Your pelvic area can feel full and heavy, especially if you are standing a great deal.
This extra blood volume also increases the pressure in your veins, especially the veins in your legs. These veins have to work harder against gravity to push the blood back up to your heart. Your uterus is also adding its own pressure onto the vessels in your pelvis. Progesterone is adding its part by relaxing your blood vessels to accommodate all of the extra blood.
The result is varicose veins. We usually think of varicose veins as those spidery purple marks on the skin, but varicose veins can happen in the rectum (haemorrhoids) or the vagina and vulva, and sometimes around the uterus and ovaries. These swollen veins can cause a heavy sensation in the pelvis and a persistent intense ache.
And of course, your growing baby is adding to all of the pressure. By the time you reach full term (which is from 37 weeks of pregnancy to 42 weeks of pregnancy), your baby’s average weight is between 2.5-3.5 kilograms (5.5-6.6 pounds). This weight is pressing down into your pelvis, along with the weight of the placenta, cord and amniotic fluid. As your baby moves about, it can create more pressure as ligaments become stretched. Because of the effects of relaxin, those ligaments allow the uterus to sag down, adding to the pressure.
At some stage before labour begins, babies tend to descend into the pelvis (known as lightening). This is more likely to occur with first babies, but it can also happen right up to when you're in labour. Your baby’s head can feel as though it’s between your legs and contributes to the ‘pregnant waddle’ you may have heard about. There is added pressure to your cervix and generally everything feels ready to fall out!
Spleen Qi Deficiency
In Chinese medicine, vaginal heaviness is said to be caused by spleen Qi deficiency.
BellyBelly's Chinese Medicine expert, Doctor Chris Tang says, “Spleen Qi deficiency is one of the most common pregnancy syndromes in Chinese Medicine. Symptoms associated with it involve tiredness, fatigue, poor digestion, swelling, fluid retention and a general feeling of heaviness all over the body. If left untreated and the syndrome progresses, it can lead to spleen Qi sinking. This can lead to extreme fatigue, a sinking feeling in the uterus, haemorrhoids and a prolapsed uterus or anus. Causes of spleen Qi deficiency can be due to a pre existing condition prior to pregnancy, poor diet, overexertion with lack of rest and poor sleeping habits.”
How does Chinese Medicine remedy splee Qi deficiency? Doctor Tang says, “Women with this condition need to address it early and make sure they rest properly. The spleen and stomach thrive on warm and cooked food, so cutting out raw and cold natured food is essential. Acupuncture and moxibustion can really help in warming and tonifying the spleen, and help raise the sinking Qi.”
Treatment For Pelvic Pressure
Pelvic pressure and discomfort can be felt at different stages of pregnancy, but usually it peaks during the last weeks before birth. While nothing can really make the pressure go away except giving birth there are a few things you can do to relieve the sensation:
- Lying on your left side to encourage your baby to adjust position
- Sitting with your feet elevated to improve circulation
- Resting with your hips elevated on cushions
- Warm baths
- Pelvic massage from a pregnancy trained practitioner
- Wearing a pregnancy belt can help support the pelvis
- Heat packs
- Knee lifts to relieve stretching ligaments
- Pelvic rocking or swaying
- Hip squeeze exercises
- Sex can relieve the pressure caused by vaginal swelling
- Body therapy such as osteopathy or chiropractic (make sure the practitioner is trained for pregnancy)
- Gentle exercise such as swimming, water exercises, cycling or walking
- Pregnancy yoga
- Pelvic floor exercises to strengthen the muscles and support the area
It’s very normal in late pregnancy to feel pressure in your pelvis. Using these methods can help relieve the sensation. However, you should always discuss any discomfort or pressure with your care provider, and make sure the treatment method is safe for you.
If you feel any pain, cramping or experience spotting before 37 weeks of pregnancy, it’s important you contact your care provider immediately. These may be signs of labour beginning. Here are 7 signs of labour if you'd like to be prepared.
Recommended Reading: 7 Great Times To Do Your Pelvic Floor Exercises.