For nine months you’ve watched your belly go from flat to the size of—well, a full-term baby.
During each trimester your body went through visible (and a few not so visible) changes.
Now it’s time for the big show.
(Also NOTE Below: Real Talk on how to tighten up that vagina after the baby!)
You’re in labor and your baby’s birthday is only hours away.
Pregnancy isn’t the only three-stage process when it comes to having a baby.
While your labor and delivery aren’t exactly as long as the three trimesters it took your baby to grow (which is extremely lucky for all pregnant moms), it does happen in three stages.
From the onset of labor through dilation to the actual delivery of your baby (and then, the placenta), your body is undergoing more changes than you might know.
Not only is your cervix stretching out an opening, but the pelvic floor muscles (in other words – your “V” muscles) are getting a workout of their own.
There’s a reason they call it “labor.”
And, it isn’t because you’re getting paid.
You’re literally “laboring” or doing work as you deliver your brand new baby.
Whether you still have another 37 weeks until your due date or it’s right around the corner, understanding what might happen to your “V” muscles during childbirth can help you better prepare for what’s to come.
Along with birthday prep, understanding the physical changes of labor and delivery can make your recovery (or, at least your recovery plan) easier.
What’s going to happen to those magical muscles of yours?
Table Of Contents
- 1 Your Vagina After Pregnancy (Well, before during & after)
- 2 1. Loss of Strength.
- 3 2. Added Stress.
- 4 3. Ligaments Soften.
- 5 4. The Uterine Muscles Contract.
- 6 5. The Muscles Stop Contracting.
- 7 6. Guiding Your Baby.
- 8 7. Muscle Stretching.
- 9 8. New Sensations.
- 10 9. Feeling Sore.
- 11 10. Nerve-Related Numbness.
- 12 11. Losing Blood Flow.
- 13 12. Becoming Flaccid.
- 14 13. Tearing During Delivery.
- 15 14. Losing Control.
- 16 REAL TALK:
- 17 15. Getting Back In Shape.
Your Vagina After Pregnancy (Well, before during & after)
1. Loss of Strength.
Who knew that your perineal muscles were so strong?
Well, the medical experts knew. But, the changes of pregnancy often equal a decrease in these muscle’s strength, according to the Journal of Prenatal Medicine.
Why does this happen?
Your muscles don’t just suddenly weaken the moment that little test showed a second purple line or glowed with a pretty pink plus sign.
It’s the pressure that your growing baby puts on the muscles (plus the weight of your uterus) that weaken the muscles.
The more weight that you’re carrying around (on the inside), the greater strain put on your muscles.
If you’re thinking, “Hey, wait! Don’t I need strong muscles to push that baby out?”
The answer is yes, and no.
Even though your pelvic muscles lose some strength during pregnancy, they don’t waste away.
You’ll still have enough strength behind them to push – but, may have to work at it to rebuild some of that lost strength post-pregnancy.
How do you get your “V” muscles back in shape? Read on, we’ll get to that later!
2. Added Stress.
Imagine you’re holding a weight (or a baby) over your head. For hours.
What’s going to happen to your arms?
The muscles will get tired. At least, we can pretty much assume so. As your baby gets bigger, all of your pelvic floor muscles feel the stress.
This can lead to the loss of strength we’ve been talking about.
Not only is your baby adding stress to your pelvic floor muscles during pregnancy, but the movement of labor is too.
The forceful pushing that you’ll need to do during the delivery process adds on to the stress your muscles feel.
3. Ligaments Soften.
The ligaments that hold your uterus up are a major part of pregnancy and childbirth. That said, they need to let go (to some extent) and soften or loosen during childbirth. Why?
Imagine that you’re trying to take your shoe off.
Not a flexible slip-on shoe, but one with laces. The lace support the shoes, keeping it tight and helping your foot not to slip out.
Your pelvis has ligaments that serve a similar function. While they don’t exactly ‘tie’ your pelvic organs (such as your bladder and uterus) in, they do keep them exactly where they’re supposed to be.
Now imagine that you’re trying to get your foot out of that same shoe without bothering to loosen or untie the laces.
Not easy, right?
The tight laces are doing their job – they’re keeping your foot exactly where it needs to be.
But, now that you want to take your shoe off, those same laces are making it more than a challenge to let your foot out.
So, what do you do now?
You loosen your laces and untie your shoe.
The looser the laces get, the easier it is to pull your shoe off. Take this idea to your pelvic floor.
The baby needs room to move through your pelvis (and out of it). In order to make enough room for baby, the ligaments need to soften and loosen enough to let this happen.
4. The Uterine Muscles Contract.
What’s one of the most obvious signs that you’re going into labor?
Okay, so your water breaking is a total tell. But, aside from that, contractions are a major way of your body saying, “Yes! We’re ready to have this baby!”
The uterine muscle is the largest muscle in a woman’s body, according to Sutter Health.
And, you thought your delts were pretty powerful. When your body is ready for baby-time, it starts to release a hormone called oxytocin.
As oxytocin is released (it comes from the pituitary gland) your uterine muscles begin tightening. That tightening is your first contraction.
As your labor progresses, the tightening continues – meaning that your contractions continue.
Not only do your contractions keep going, but they start coming more often and get more intense.
The growing intensity is the increased tightening of the muscles. The tightening isn’t just felt inside. If you feel your abdomen during a contraction, it has a hard or stiff sensation.
Your doctor (or midwife) will start timing your contractions. Knowing how far apart they are and for how long they last helps the medical pros judge just how soon that baby of yours is coming. The closer the tightening gets (and longer it lasts), the closer you are to pushing.
5. The Muscles Stop Contracting.
It makes sense that the uterine muscles tighten during labor. As we’ve already pointed out, that’s what helps childbirth to progress.
Contractions start during the first stage of labor.
During early labor, they may even be so far apart that your doctor doesn’t tell you to rush into the hospital.
If this tightening of your major delivery muscles is a must for having a baby, why do they stop?
While contractions are a completely unavoidable part of labor and delivery, they also aren’t constant. Imagine what a constant stream of tightening that never lets up would feel like.
Or, wait – don’t!
Every time that your uterine muscles tense, you feel cramping, pain, and pressure. If this didn’t stop, childbirth would be unbearable.
Even though the contractions get closer and longer as you get towards the pushing part, the muscles also relax at times.
Luckily, every time your muscles stop tightening you get a rest. This allows you to manage the labor pain and get ready for the next round.
6. Guiding Your Baby.
The movement of your “V” muscles during childbirth has an outstandingly amazing (and totally necessary) function.
They guide your baby!
Without the muscle movement, your baby would simply stay put, never moving from your uterus.
The up and down, tensing and relaxing of the muscles, is what helps to move your baby.
It creates a pattern that you can think about as a wave-like motion, moving your baby down further towards the birth canal.
Okay, so there really isn’t anywhere for your baby to go other than out. It’s not like your little guy or girl is going to move back further inside of you.
Unless you’re having a C-section, that baby is coming out of you the natural way.
That said, your baby isn’t exactly ready to crawl out on their own.
The pelvic muscles move to accommodate your baby and help guide him or her through the process.
7. Muscle Stretching.
Not only do the ligaments soften during childbirth, but the muscles stretch too.
Yes, babies are tiny – at least in comparison to your full-sized adult height.
But, that doesn’t mean they can whoosh right out of your body without some major accommodation.
During childbirth, your pelvic muscles go through changes to make it easier for your baby to come out of your body.
Yes, your uterus does tighten.
But, that doesn’t mean everything down there clenches up. If it did, there wouldn’t be much room for a full-term (or even premature) baby to move through.
The baby will actually stretch the pelvic floor muscles (along with the tissue and nerves) during the part of labor known as “crowning,” according to the Nursing Times.
Crowning happens as your baby’s head slowly emerges. It may come out and go back in, with each contraction.
But, at some point, your doctor will let you know that your little bundle is “crowning.” At this point, the baby’s head stays visible and doesn’t pop back in again.
This means that he or she is on their way out.
Even though you’ve been pushing pretty hard up until this point, your doc will likely tell you to stop.
What? Don’t you want to get that baby out? Of course.
But, now you need to let Mother Nature (with your medical professional’s help) take its course.
Your doctor may even tell you to consciously relax your pelvic floor muscles at this point, stretching them for delivery.
8. New Sensations.
As your body changes during pregnancy, you have all kinds of new sensations.
There’s the way your growing belly feels as it pops out.
There’s the first teeny tiny little flutter of the fetus.
There’s the first kick, the second kick, and the three semesters-in and there’s no room left for baby but she’s still kicking type of kick too.
You may have felt some new sensations related to your muscles too.
The round ligaments that support your uterus begin to stretch sometime in the second trimester.
This can cause pain in the abdomen, hips or even groin area, notes the American Pregnancy Association.
While the discomfort caused by ligament stretching is completely normal, you should always check with your doctor or medical professional if you feel any pain during pregnancy.
Only the expert can give you the okay that everything’s okay.
Ligament stretching isn’t the only new sensation when it comes to your muscular system.
As your pelvic floor muscles stretch, tense, strain and release during labor and delivery, you’re likely to feel an array of new sensations down there.
Paying close attention to those feelings can help you through the childbirth process.
Knowing what’s going on inside of your body can make pushing more effective (especially if you know when to relax) and may even calm you down during delivery.
9. Feeling Sore.
You’re at the gym working out. You’re using your muscles, and you can feel it. That makes sense.
It’s happened more times in your life than you can even remember.
A vigorous run, a weightlifting session or even a random step class – and suddenly you’re sore.
If a simple workout can tire your muscles out enough to make you sore, think about what happens during labor. Your pelvic muscles are working overtime.
Not only have they been battered by the stress and strain of pregnancy, but now they’re tightening, loosening and having a baby push its way past them.
Labor isn’t easy.
Passing a baby out of your body is a major event. Probably the biggest event that your body has seen as of yet.
What’s the result?
Everywhere. Or, at least it seems like it’s everywhere.
Don’t be surprised if your pelvic muscles feel fatigued and somewhat sore following delivery. It happens. Don’t worry.
Your muscles won’t feel sore forever. Just like your legs recover after a run, your pelvic muscles will bounce back.
That said, it’s likely to take more time to shake that post-pregnancy soreness than it would after one of your regular workouts.
10. Nerve-Related Numbness.
Your pelvic region is just like other areas of your body – it has nerves too! As the baby passes through the area, her head and body press on these nerves.
Well, not directly. It’s not like hitting your funny bone (which obviously is not a bone). When you bang that bundle of nerves near your elbow on the corner of a door or you hit it against the nightstand as you’re trying to get out of bed, it sends a shock throughout your body (at least it feels that way).
When your baby starts moving down to the birth canal, she’s pressing on the muscles.
The more pressure that the baby puts on the muscles, the more the nerves underneath are affected.
Instead of a shocking pain, the pressure put on the nerves that line your pelvic floor muscles may bring on a sense of numbness.
If you’re thinking that this is an amazing aspect of pregnancy that will allow you to go through delivery virtually pain-free, stop right there.
Even though the nerves are being compressed by your baby’s head bearing down on them, you will still feel the pain of childbirth (unless, of course, you’ve had an epidural).
But, you may feel a sense of numbness between your vagina and anus.
This may make it difficult to pick up on some of the pelvic muscle sensations or create a bigger challenge when it comes to pushing.
The numbness may stick around after you give birth. There’s no need to stress. The numb feeling won’t last forever.
As your body returns to its pre-pregnancy state, the muscles and the nerves will recover too.
11. Losing Blood Flow.
Your baby’s weight doesn’t just press on the nerves that run through and near your muscles. It also affects the blood flow.
When you’re in the pushing phase of labor, the baby may temporarily restrict blood flow to your pelvic floor muscles.
According to UCLA Health, pushing puts three times as much pressure on your pelvic tissues than what your body would normally have.
What does that mean?
Simply stated, as you go through the end stage of labor you have three times more pressure pushing on the muscles.
All of this pressure build-up starts to cut off the normal blood supply. This deprives the muscles of much-needed oxygen.
Before you start thinking that the oxygen deprivation will cause permanent damage (after all, it sounds pretty bad), don’t worry.
The pressure isn’t constant, and that means that the blood flow restriction isn’t constant either.
Every time that your body relaxes, and the contractions stop, the blood supply returns. Fresh blood is allowed to flow back to your muscles when you relax them and stop pushing.
This brings oxygen back to your pelvic floor and carries the carbon dioxide out – allowing your tissue to make a recovery.
Even though the blood flow comes back (temporarily), the tissue and muscles can still feel fatigue. This is one of the reasons that you’ll feel so sore after delivery.
12. Becoming Flaccid.
In some cases, the nerve damage during childbirth can cause the muscles surrounding them to become completely flaccid.
There are two major nerves that line the birth canal – the pudendal and pelvic nerves. As your baby moves through the birth canal, her head moves close to these nerves. So close that it begins to press on both of them.
What’s so important about these nerves?
They carry the signals from your brain to the muscles that surround your bladder, vagina and rectum.
When they’re pressed by your baby’s head, the signals don’t exactly travel well. This results in under stimulation of the pelvic muscles.
Basically, the signals can’t move from your brain to the muscles – so, the muscles don’t know what to do.
The pelvic muscles go flaccid or don’t work properly.
There’s some evidence saying that more than half of all women in delivery have this issue, according to UCLA Health.
You’re at a greater risk for this happening if you have an extremely long labor.
Prolonged labor means that the baby’s head spends more time pressing against the two birth canal nerves. The more pressure put on them, the more likely it is that the signal will slow.
13. Tearing During Delivery.
Childbirth often equals tearing for many women.
When you think of tearing, it’s likely that you’re picturing (or, more likely, trying not picture) the spaces between your vagina and anus.
Some doctors will cut the area near your vagina (called an episiotomy) to avoid a jagged or extremely large tear or to give baby more room to come out. Technically, your doctor is cutting through muscle tissue.
Making this one of the most obvious ways that your “V” muscles are affected by childbirth.
Aside from vaginal tearing, you can also tear inside.
The force of your baby’s head coming out may result in tearing of the ligaments.
Not only do these ligaments stretch, but the extreme pressure may mean that they just can’t hold up – literally.
These ligaments anchor and support the muscles of your pelvic region, making it more of a challenge to push of they tear.
Not only can the ligaments tear, but the muscles themselves may tear.
14. Losing Control.
No, this certainly isn’t one of the most pleasant parts of pregnancy. But, it’s an all-too-true fact of labor and delivery (as well as post-pregnancy life) for many women.
Between the pressure of baby’s head and body and the force of pushing, it’s possible that the muscles directly below the vagina (as well as the ones that circle the rectum) may become injured to the point of causing incontinence.
This is often an unavoidable part of delivery.
The muscles that help keep urine in (and allow you to let it all out – when you’re ready, of course) are often weaker than they were before childbirth.
With weak pelvic muscles, you may lose the ability to control your elimination functions. What does this mean? Bladder, and possibly rectal, leakage.
Obviously, no woman wants to deal with incontinence issues. Not only is it physically uncomfortable, but it can also become psychologically troublesome.
Not knowing if the next sneeze, cough, laugh or jump might bring on an unexpected leak makes what should be one of the happiest times of your life (the time right after having a baby) into a stressful situation.
That said, for many, this problem goes away during the postpartum period.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s Office on Women’s Health, childbirth-related urinary incontinence typically resolves as the pelvic muscles health.
If you’re having constant or severe leakage, or the problem persists for more than six weeks after delivery, talk to your doctor.
Your medical professional can evaluate the issue and provide options that may solve or improve the problem.
15. Getting Back In Shape.
Yes, we did promise to get an answer to the question, “How do you get the “V” muscles back into shape?”
Rebounding from delivery is in a way the last step in the childbirth process.
You’ve done the laboring, had the contractions, pushed, pushed and pushed some more.
The baby’s out, and you’re feeling weak.
Maybe you’ve experienced muscle strain, stress, fatigue or soreness.
Maybe you’ve torn or in some way injured your pelvic floor muscles (and/or the attached ligaments).
First, start with your doctor. The pro can address your medical issues, and help you find solutions.
Along with any advice that your doctor gives you, some experts suggest using pelvic floor exercises to strengthen your muscles.
Commonly knows and Kegels, these exercises can be done before delivery and after. Keep in mind, it may be a challenge to start your Kegels immediately after childbirth.
Your “V” muscles are sore and need rest.
Instead of overexerting yourself, give your body some time to heal naturally.
Before starting pelvic floor exercises, you need to find the right muscles.
One way to do this is to stop your stream during urination. If you can manage this, you’ve managed to find the right muscle group.
Only use this technique to find the muscles. Don’t continue it or use it as a strengthening tool.
Kegel exercises with a full bladder (or doing them as you’re emptying it) may have the opposite effect—causing your muscles to actually weaken.
You can do Kegels almost any time, almost anywhere.
Start slowly, tightening your pelvic floor muscles for a few seconds.
Release them, and then try again.
Work up to 10 seconds of tightening, with 10 seconds of release following the contraction.
In the beginning, you may only be able to manage a few contraction and release cycles.
Eventually, you should aim for 10 Kegels, done three times over the course of a day.
With your Kegels, you’re completing a cycle!
Not just a tighten and release cycle, but the entire pelvic floor muscle sequence. From the pressure of pregnancy to the push of delivery, your “V” muscles are getting a big-time workout.
Knowing what to expect, and how to deal with it, will help you both during delivery and as you get used to your post-pregnancy body!