This is the million dollar question most pregnant women want the answer to.
And although it’s not what you want to hear, the answer is – not exactly.
Some women are so terrified of the impact of vaginal birth they book in for an elective c-section (and no, this doesn’t help – but more about that later).
Will My Vagina Go Back To Normal After Birth?
First, what is normal? For most women it is the size and muscle tone, as well as the outer appearance of the vagina after birth that concerns them.
There are many factors that lead to changes. Some of them you have control over and some you don’t.
Here are 5 ways your vagina might not be the same after birth:
#1: The Big Stretch
Let’s just put it right out there – your vagina is made to stretch. It seems impossible that a baby is going to fit through what appears to be such a small space, but it works. Really, it does.
Remember the hormone relaxin? Mother Nature makes sure your ligaments and muscles get stretchy to accommodate your growing uterus and baby.
The tissues surrounding your ligaments stretch with them too. During birth, your vaginal tissues stretch around your baby.
But after birth, the stretched tissues need time to shrink. Your pelvic floor muscles have relaxed and lost some tone, and this can last for some time. As a result, your vagina will feel roomier, especially when you’re moving about.
It takes about 6-10 weeks for the vagina to return to approximately the same contour and size it was before you had a baby. It won’t be exactly the same size though.
Booking an elective c-section isn’t going to prevent the effects of relaxin on your body during pregnancy.
You can read more in The Lie That A C-Section Can Save Your Pelvic Floor.
There’s plenty you can do, however, to prepare your pelvic floor for the work it has to do during labour and birth. During pregnancy it’s important to focus on pelvic floor exercises. If you’re not sure what to do, speak to your care provider or seek the support of a women’s health physiotherapist.
Some people never seem to bruise and others take weeks to heal a tiny cut. Some women can bend their legs about their ears and many of us struggle to bend at the knees.
We all heal differently and in different time frames. How you heal depends a lot on your genetics, your health, and whether you’re able to rest. Many women are up and about very quickly after birth, either because of expectations about bouncing back, the need to get back to work, or because they don’t have support at home.
The vagina has a very good blood supply and in many cases it heals quite quickly from the physical effects of birth. But don’t use this as an excuse to push yourself back into exercising too soon.
If you injure yourself while exercising you know you need to rest and recover. The same applies to birth, which after all is a peak physical performance. Your uterus and vagina have done some formidable work – give them time to heal.
#3: The Actual Birth
Again, there’s no predicting how this is likely to go. In a perfect world, every woman would have an undisturbed labour, with the least amount of intervention and the maximum amount of positive support. There wouldn’t be time frames for pushing, restrictions on birth positions, or environments that create fear and stress in mamas.
What happens during labour, the attitude of care providers, and the birth environment can all have a major impact on how your birth unfolds.
Women-centred support is holistic. It provides women with the emotional and mental support they need to do a very physical job, which reduces the chances of damage to the vagina.
#4: Tears And Grazes
Even in a perfect birthing environment, women can have small tears or grazes. Sometimes a woman’s perineum (the area between the vagina and the rectum) is longer or tighter than usual and this area doesn’t stretch quite so much.
When a baby comes faster than a mama’s body is prepared for, the birth puts pressure on tissues that haven’t had a chance to stretch. The position a woman is in when giving birth – for example, lying down rather than being on all fours – also puts pressure on the perineum.
Often women are told a big baby will cause damage and although this can happen, the same is true for smaller babies. My second baby – my most petite at 3.2kg (8lbs 2 oz) – flew out with a hand next to her cheek and I ended up with a small tear. Of my three babies, my largest at 5kg (11lbs) gave me a graze.
On the positive side, most tears are minor, many don’t need stitches, and they will usually heal within two months of birth. More severe tearing might require extensive stitching or even surgery. This can affect how your vagina feels for some time after birth.
Episiotomies, forceps and vacuum births will have a greater impact on the way your vagina feels after birth, depending on the skill and experience of the care provider performing them. As far as possible, avoid being in a situation where these procedures are used routinely rather than out of necessity.
#5: Things Don’t Look The Same
Women don’t spend much time looking at their bodies in a positive way. The vagina is usually an area they rarely have a good look at, but most of us know where everything is.
So after the birth it can come as quite a shock to see how swollen and how different everything seems.
As your baby comes down through your vagina, your perineum and vulva stretch to allow the head through. After birth, the inner labia can look looser and hang lower than before. As the blood flow to the area is reduced, the swelling will go down. But often the shape and size of this area appear quite different after having a baby.
Another difference can be the colour of your vagina; this is due to hormones. Sometimes the skin around the labia and perineum is darker, although typically it will go back to your normal colour once your hormones stabilise.
The important thing to remember is once you’ve had a baby, there’s a new normal for your body. It has undertaken an amazing transformation by producing another human being and this will change you, both emotionally and physically.
Time is an important part of adjusting to this new normal. Caring for and supporting your body is important. Post birth recovery takes as long as it takes and expectations of women to ‘bounce back’ are unrealistic.
So the big question is answered: while everything will spring back into shape, most likely it won’t be exactly as it was before you gave birth.
Embrace your new normal.