Have you ever wondered what happens to your vagina when you deliver a baby? If the answer is no, then you’re not alone. I will admit, it’s far more enjoyable choosing nursery décor or picking out stuffed animals than pondering the less desirable aspects of pregnancy. All too often the conversation of what happens to my vagina when this tiny human exits my pelvis is one that is had in retrospect. Understanding what happens to this very important part of your body during the delivery process helps with establishing realistic expectations about your post-baby recovery.
Without getting too technical, the vagina is a long hollow tube about that typically ranges from seven to ten centimeters in length. The innermost part of the vagina ends with the cervix and the outermost part opens to the hymen where it is flanked by your labial folds. The innermost part of the vagina rest in a horizontal position and the lower portion is more vertical. The vagina has many functions including facilitating sexual intercourse, channel for the passage of menstrual bleeding, prevention of infection and serving as the birth canal for delivery of your baby. Your vagina adapts perfectly to accommodate a full-term fetal head often stretching to three times its normal size at the time of your delivery.
Vaginal stretching facilitates delivery of your baby
The vaginal canal is surrounding by muscles and connective tissue and has a rich supply of nerves and blood vessels. The strength of the vagina is provided by deep layers of connective tissue. The connective tissue which supports the vaginal canal is made of collagen and elastin and provides the strength and flexibility needed so that the vagina can expand and contract during and after pregnancy. Stretching of the vagina is mandatory and the dynamic properties of the connective tissue allow it to expand very quickly to enable passage of a fetal head as it descends from the uterus into the birth canal. Tearing of the vagina or perineum can occur during delivery and happens in 90% of women during their first delivery. Vaginal tears typically heal very quickly and are less likely to occur with a subsequent pregnancy.
Your vagina shrinks after you deliver your baby
A small amount of permanent stretch damage may occur to the muscles of your vagina after delivery. The amount of permanent injury is determined by your genetics, the size of your baby, the forces of labor and whether instruments like forceps or suction devices were used. The good news is that the elastic properties of the vagina which enable it to expand also facilities rapid contraction. Most women will not have noticeable changes to the size or shape of the vagina. A common question amongst women is whether or not a cesarean section will prevent changes to the vaginal canal. It is important to note that many of the changes happening to the pelvis and vagina, occur due to the forces of pregnancy so having a cesarean section will not necessarily prevent all types of injury.
A vaginal delivery is the safest way to deliver your infant and the changes experienced during delivery are not typically noticeable even when you resume intercourse. It is common to feel a sense of laxity in the vaginal area after delivery and this can be present up to a year later as your connective tissue and muscles heal. Kegel exercises or pelvic floor physical therapy is useful to help improve the strength and elasticity of the vaginal walls to reduce your feeling of laxity.
Talk with your obgyn about what happens to your vagina when you deliver a baby and about ways to rehabilitate your pelvic floor and vagina after your baby is delivered.
I am board certified in Obsetrics and Gynecology (OBGYN) and Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery (FPMRS). I currently serve as the Medical Director of Female Pelvic Medicine for the Crozer Health Medical Group in the greater Philadelphia area. I obtained my residency training in OBGYN at the Los Angeles County+ University of Southern California Medical Center and fellowship training in FPMRS at Johns Hopkins. I am passionate about the field of Women’s Health and the treatment of pelvic floor disorders like urinary incontinence and pelvic organ prolapse.