Childbirth is one of the biggest events our bodies can go through. After spending nine months growing and nurturing your baby, the idea of giving birth can be a daunting prospect.
If you're planning to have a vaginal birth, you could be wondering how the heck your baby is supposed to make its way through your vaginal opening. Won't it tear? Will my pelvic floor muscles be forever ruined? Is postpartum urinary incontinence inevitable?
The truth is that a vaginal delivery does have an impact on your body and can cause some short-term changes to your vagina after birth.
But, by knowing what to expect and how to care for your body after childbirth, you can have the best postpartum recovery journey possible.
How does a vaginal delivery change your vagina?
The way you bring your child into the world has an impact on what your postpartum recovery journey looks like. While there is a range of different ways to give birth (such as by C-section), for the sake of this guide we'll be focusing on how a vaginal birth can impact your vagina.
During labour and delivery, contractions (a.k.a. the tightening and releasing of your uterus) will begin to push your baby through the cervix. This is the lowest part of your uterus that opens into your vagina.
What you're preparing to birth vaginally, your cervix will begin to soften, dilate and open to allow your baby to be pushed through.
Once your cervical canal has opened to 10 centimetres, your baby is able to pass into the birth canal.
As you'd expect, there is plenty of skin, tissue and muscle stretching that occurs to allow for your baby's arrival. Depending on how your delivery goes, interventions (like forceps or vacuum extractions) might need to be used along the way.
It comes as no surprise that the birth process can lead to different levels of vaginal tearing and cause your vaginal tissue to stretch. It does take some time for your pelvic floor muscles and tissue to shrink and return to their normal size.
After around six weeks, you should notice your vagina returning to almost the same size and shape it was prior to birth.
What does a vagina look like after birth?
Before we dive in, it's important to call out the obvious: your vagina is unique, and no two vaginas look the same (prior to or post-birth).
However, there are a few common changes women often report after a vaginal delivery. Many women report the sensation of a wider vagina after birth, and it may take a few days for this swelling to go down after birth.
You might also notice soreness, redness or tenderness, especially if you've experienced any kind of vaginal tearing. The other key area that might look and feel different is your perineal area (the skin between your vagina and your anus).
This can feel sore, swollen and inflamed and may take a few days to subside. In fact, the stats tell us that around three in four women will experience some kind of 'perineal trauma' (such as a tear or surgical cut) during birth.
Along with tearing, you might experience an episiotomy during birth (where your vaginal openings are torn or cut to allow for a healthy birth).
This usually requires stitches that can be sore or uncomfortable in the first few weeks after birth.
Does your vagina go back to normal after birth?
In short, yes.
Vaginal delivery takes a big toll on your body, especially your vaginal opening. While your vagina will look and feel different in the first few weeks after delivery, it should return to its normal size and shape within a couple of weeks or so.
While it can take up to six weeks for your vagina to feel more like its normal self, you should notice swelling and tenderness easing after a couple of days.
How long does the vagina take to heal after birth?
As we mentioned, it can take up to six weeks for your vagina to heal after birth. In the first few weeks, your body will focus on repairing any vaginal tearing. During this time, soreness and pain are common, but make sure to talk to your doctor if something doesn't feel right down there.
By about four to six weeks postpartum, you should notice your vagina is feeling much better.
While some tightness or even looseness is totally normal, make sure to chat with your healthcare provider if you're worried about your recovery timeline.
Ways to help heal your vagina after birth
Your body has done so much for you during pregnancy and birth, so it's important to take care of yourself and invest in your postpartum recovery. Along with pelvic floor exercises, rest and a healthy diet, it's important to make sure you have the right tools to fast-track your recovery.
Kin's Postpartum Recovery Kit comes packed with an easy four-step recovery regime to help you and your vagina heal from birth. Inside you'll find a Peri Bottle, Mesh Panties, Soothing Padsicles and Healing Foam to heal your vagina, relieve discomfort and help you feel like yourself again.
The Peri Bottle is ergonomically designed to delicately clean your vagina without applying painful pressure, while the Mesh Panties provide the ultimate comfort and hold you in with just the right amount of support.
The Soothing Padsicles combine instant cold therapy and an absorbent pad in one and are incredibly soothing on your painful parts.
Rounding out the kit is the Healing Foam fights bacteria and reduces swelling while providing relief for pain, itching, and tearing.
Whether you're navigating tears, soreness, swelling, itching or anything in between, our Postpartum Recovery Kit is designed to support healing and soothe your body when you need it the most.
Vagina after birth: What to expect
Curious to see what is and isn't normal when it comes to your vagina after birth? Let's discuss the common symptoms you might encounter in your postpartum recovery journey.
#1 Your period may be heavier or lighter
After nine months without a period during pregnancy, you might be wondering when your flow will return after birth. In the first few days after birth, you'll experience some postpartum bleeding (known as lochia) as your uterus shrinks back to its usual size.
This bleeding might be heavy and a bright red blood flow for the first couple of days, before changing to a brownish colour. This kind of bleeding should stop after two months.
However, make sure to speak to your doctor if you notice any uncontrolled heavy bleeding after birth (such as you're soaking more than one pad an hour), as this could be a sign of a postpartum haemorrhage.
But what about your period? If you decide that breastfeeding is right for you, you might not ovulate or see a return in your period for many months.
However, if you are bottle feeding you could see your period return within three weeks. Plus, you might notice your bleed is heavier or even lighter than usual.
That's because your estrogen levels are usually lower (which means the uterine lining might be thinner than usual). But, if your estrogen levels increase, you could see your lining build up more quickly and cause a heavy period.
As you'd expect, your vaginal area and perineum will likely be very sore after birth. The level of soreness you experience is usually determined by the kind of tearing you've experienced.
If you've experienced a first-degree tear, your skin around the vaginal opening might not need stitches and should heal within a month or so.
However, if you've experienced a fourth-degree tear, you may need surgery to repair the torn muscles. Recovery from this can take up to 12 weeks.
#3 Size of the vagina or stretch
While your vagina is incredibly elastic, vaginal delivery can cause stretching to your vagina and a temporary change in size. How? Well, your body released hormones during pregnancy and labour to allow your baby to be delivered.
Estrogen increases blood flow to the vagina to allow it to stretch, while relaxin helps your ligaments and joints in the pelvic area expand and make room for your baby.
To return your vagina to its normal size, you may need to do exercises to strengthen your weakened pelvic floor muscles.
#4 Your vagina may be drier for some time
Vaginal dryness is another normal change you might encounter after birth. Again, this is linked to hormonal changes you'll likely experience after birth.
During breastfeeding, our bodies experience low levels of oestrogen (which acts as a natural contraceptive to stop us from falling pregnant too soon). While this hormone prevents ovulation, it can also cause vaginal dryness.
That's because oestrogen is what maintains normal vaginal lubrication. If you are experiencing vaginal dryness after birth, you might want to consider trying lubricant to help things along when you have sex.
NORMAL's Water-Based Lube is a gentle and hydrating formula that can be used for all of your sexual needs including penetrative sex, masturbation and sex toy play.
If you prefer something more silky-feeling, NORMAL's Silicon-Based Lube is your best bet. This lubricant reduces friction during sex, reduces the risk of micro-tears and even acts as a natural moisturiser.
#5 Pelvic floor muscles
After birth, you might notice you're navigating pelvic floor is weaker than usual. That's because your pelvic floor has been stretched during pregnancy and delivery. Your pelvic floor is responsible for keeping your bladder closed, which is why you might encounter leaking when you cough, sneeze or lift heavy objects after birth.
The good news is that there are plenty of ways to strengthen your pelvic muscles and in some cases, you might want to speak to a pelvic floor physical therapist who can help you create a routine to build back your strength.
Simple pelvic floor exercises such as squeezing and holding your pelvic muscles can help you to restore strength after birth.
#6 Your labia could be different colours or shapes
As we mentioned, our hormone levels change throughout our pregnancy and this can have an impact on things like the colour and appearance of our labia. With a rise in estrogen and progesterone levels, you may experience an increase in blood flow to your labia that can make it appear darker.
Plus this rush of blood flow might cause the labia to retract or even appear larger.
#7 Scar tissue in your vagina
If you experience a tear, you might experiment with excessive or raised scar tissue at the site of your tear. A chat with your doctor can help you to figure out the best course of action.
How long after birth can you have sex?
While everyone is different, you'll likely be able to have sex again within one to three months postpartum. But just because your doctor has given you the all-clear doesn't necessarily mean you'll want to have sex again.
In fact, many women who are breastfeeding report a drop in their libido and vaginal dryness that can make sex feel sore and uncomfortable.
Remember to take things at your own pace, communicate with your partner and know that your sex drive may pick up once your hormone levels adjust and your menstrual cycle returns.
What to expect having sex for the first time after birth?
As you'd expect, you might experience pain or discomfort when having sex for the first time after giving birth. If you feel tightness or dryness, lubricant can be a helpful way to ease friction and discomfort.
On the flip side, if your muscles feel looser than usual, you may need to create a pelvic floor exercise routine to help them shrink back to shape.
Remember: your body has done some incredible things for you and your baby.
So, be kind to yourself, take your time and know that you'll feel more comfortable with your postpartum body over time.