Pregnancy and childbirth can put intense amounts of physical strain on your body. From physically adapting to your growing bump, the aches and pains of Braxton Hicks or the joy of engorgement during breastfeeding, us Moms certainly get put through a lot whilst preparing to meet our baby.
One of the most extreme physical responses to childbirth, however, is the one that is generally talked about the least. The weight of your child bearing down and the force of contractions during labor can put huge amounts of pressure on your vagina and perineum – the fleshy area of skin and muscle between your vagina and anus.
Whilst your cervix can stretch, dilate and adapt to make room for your baby, the perineum is at real risk of trauma during the latter stages of childbirth. Tearing or damaging your perineum during labor is incredibly common and can be a painful and unwelcome part of postpartum recovery.
The good news is, that there are some simple steps you can take to help prevent it.
Research has shown that perineal massage can significantly help reduce the likelihood of trauma during childbirth, including perineum tears and the need for an episiotomy (where the perineum is cut to increase the width of the vaginal opening.) Even if you’ve had a baby before, perineal massage can reduce the risk of perineal discomfort in the months following childbirth.
Sounds worth a try – but what is it and why don’t we talk about it more?
What is perineal massage?
Recommended to carry out from 34 weeks of pregnancy onwards, perineal massage is a simple process that, when carried out twice a week, can help stretch and improve the overall elasticity of the perineum. Perineal massage can improve your body’s ability to adapt during childbirth, helping you cope better and reduce the risk of tearing.
The good news is – perineal massage is something you can do yourself or even ask your partner to do for you – so long as you both feel comfortable.
Here is how to do perineal massage:
- Firstly, it’s really important that before you carry out a perineal massage your hands are clean, with your nails trimmed short to avoid any discomfort.
- Choose a time when you are feeling calm, relaxed and comfortable. Many Moms-to-be opt to do their perineal massage during or straight after a bath or shower where the perineum is already warm and soft.
- Add some fragrance-free lubricant or oil to your hands and the entrance to your vagina and place your thumbs just inside, before stretching against the sides of your vagina until you feel a slight pulling or stretching sensation.
- Move in a U-shaped movement, from the sides of your vagina to your perineum and back for around a minute at a time. Whilst it should not hurt, you may feel some pulling or tension as your perineum starts to stretch.
Why don’t we talk about it more?
Good question! There is absolutely no reason why perineal massage should be taboo, yet many Moms-to-be find it a little awkward to talk about. However, just like packing your hospital bag, practising your breathing techniques and writing a birth plan, perineal massage is an optional way to help prepare your body for labor.