Two sisters were taking part in an exercise class. It seemed easy enough, just simple cardio techniques and light weights. Until the instructor wanted the class to follow her in a series of jumping jacks.
“Jumping jacks?” Hissed one sister to the other. “Doesn’t she know we had kids?”
The sisters were faced with a tough decision, leave the class and look like a pair of wimps, or stick it out and hope not to pee their pants. They chose the latter and attempted a modified set of jumps while simultaneously holding their legs together. They were moderately successful at both completing the workout and keeping their panties dry.
According to a study by Obstetrics and Gynecology, although women were more likely to experience incontinence within the first year post-delivery if the baby was delivered vaginally, (40.2 per cent) mothers who delivered via caesarean also experienced pee in their panties (25.5 per cent).
So why are young mothers considering diapers for themselves as well as their kiddos? It has a lot to do with the changes to the"V" during pregnancy and birth. Not all changes are bad. From orgasms to dirty underwear, take a look at 15 changes to your va-jay-jay before, during and after birth.
15 Before: Weak Pelvic Floor
Stress incontinence is the most common type of incontinence during pregnancy. This occurs when urine leaks due to stress on the bladder. Exercise, laughing, coughing or sneezing can cause urine to expel ranging from mild to moderate symptoms.
There are many factors that can contribute to this. Stress incontinence is caused by a weakened sphincter that is unable to properly hold in urine. This can cause leakage when stress is placed on the bladder. The expanding uterus also contributes to this pressure, as well as pressure on the pelvic floor muscles.
This condition can continue after the birth. An Overactive Bladder (OAB) causes a frequent need to urinate because of uncontrollable spasms in the bladder.
So are we all destined for diapers? Nope! Luckily there are lots of ways to get help.
In the case of OAB, ‘timed voiding’ is one method to help reduce accidents. In this method you chart and record times of needing to urinate and leakage and try to make sure to pre-emptively go to the bathroom at those times.
You can also try bladder training in which you build up the time between washroom visits. To begin you would empty your bladder every hour, then every 90 minutes, and then two hours. You can continue in this pattern until you are three or four hours between bathroom visits.
Kegel exercises are another way to help incontinence as they strengthen the pelvic floor muscles that can be weakened during childbirth. One way to find those muscles is to try and stop the flow or urine midstream.
To do a Kegel make sure to keep your thighs and buttocks relaxed and then tighten your Kegel muscles for a count of ten, then relax for a count of ten and tighten again. If incontinence persists, make an appointment with your doctor.
14 Before: Bits Turn Blue
Nothing like a little color change to announce your pregnancy to your partner! Increased blood flow can cause swelling and discoloration. This can cause the cervix, vagina and labia to change color from their normal pinkish hue to a dark blue or even purple. Known as Chadwick’s sign, this is one of the early indicators of pregnancy and can be seen as early as six to eight weeks after conception.
Although the medical discovery was made by French doctor Étienne Joseph Jacquemin around 1836; it was named for James Read Chadwick. Chadwick drew attention to the discovery when he read a paper before the American Gynecological Society in 1886, in which he credited Jacquemin for his work. Despite this, the condition was not named for the man who discovered it, but rather the one who drew attention to it.
13 Before: Bleeding
As scary as it can be, bleeding in the first trimester of pregnancy is fairly common. It is estimated that 25 per cent of all pregnant women will experience some bleeding.
The reason for bleeding varies as well as the amount of blood. Implantation bleeding, which is a small amount of blood as a result of the egg attaching itself to the uterine wall, can sometimes be mistaken for a light period.
Heavy bleeding can be a sign of ectopic pregnancy, which is a pregnancy that occurs outside of the uterus, usually in the fallopian tube. It can also signal a miscarriage. One study concluded the risk of miscarriage with spotting in the first trimester was nine per cent, with light bleeding it was 12 per cent and with heavy bleeding it was 24 per cent.
Bleeding can also be a sign of Gestational trophoblastic disease (GTD), which are a group of pregnancy-related tumors and Chorionic hematoma (also chorionic hemorrhage) is the pooling of blood between the membrane surrounding the embryo, and the uterine wall.
12 Before: Arousal Problems
Unfortunately, this one seems to go either way. The good news is that increased blood flow to the"V" and uterus makes an orgasm easier to achieve and stronger, the bad news is that many women have reported that having a uterus full of baby can make it feel like they can’t quite reach orgasm.
Additionally, as their bellies grow, they may have to forego their favorite positions to accommodate their growing bellies.
Some good positions to try while pregnant include:
- Spooning-lay on your side and have your partner behind you. This can allow for shallower penetration
- Women on top-keep total control of the depth of penetration and showcase your awesome pregnancy boobs
- Side of the bed-lay on the bed and have your partner stand in front of you. Similar to missionary position without your partner putting any weight on your belly
Not into pregnancy sex? There is good news for you too. A surge in hormones, including oxytocin, the hormone mainly responsible for achieving orgasm during pregnancy is still present during breastfeeding.
11 Before: Lots Of Discharge
Not always the sexiest topic to discuss but it is important to know what to expect during pregnancy, especially as your belly expands and you lose sight of your"V".
You can expect an increase in discharge due to increased blood flow and hormones. You should experience discharge that is clear or whitish, odorless and it may appear yellow when dried on your underwear.
Experts at WebMD suggest to avoid wearing tight pants, wear underwear made of natural fibres, wipe front to back after using the washroom and make sure to keep yourself clean with soap and water.
It is very important not to douche. Douching can introduce water into the circulatory system or cause membranes to rupture in later pregnancy.
If you experience any itching, burning, odorous or green or yellow discharge you need to follow up with your doctor.
10 Before: Swelling
Is your downstairs feeling particularly full? Increased blood flow during pregnancy can cause the vulva to swell and change color. Swelling can also be caused by vulvar varicosities, which are varicose veins in the"V" area which may or may not be visible. The veins are caused by pressure on the vagina by the baby.
In varicose veins the increased blood supply caused by pregnancy coupled with the weight on a growing fetus cause veins to bulge near the skin's surface.The veins can feel itchy, achy or even produce a burning sensation. Sleeping with a pillow under your legs can help alleviate some pressure as well as daily exercise to promote good circulation.
Additionally, swelling can be caused by irritation from shaving, soap or even trichomoniasis, which is a sexually transmitted infection caused by a parasite. Known as 'trich' this STI can cause preterm birth or lower birth weights. Symptoms include a yellow or greenish discharge, pain during intercourse or when peeing or spotting after sex. If you are unsure, always see your doctor.
9 During: Dirty Underwear
Between discharge and the occasional slip of urine, most pregnant women are well versed in having to change their underwear or wear a panty liner well get ready to upgrade. Even though you have probably experienced your fair share of discharge during your pregnancy, you are about to be thrown for a curveball, or more accurately, a slime ball.
Your mucus plug is a barrier of bloody or brownish mucus that seals your"V" from your uterus. It is formed in the first month of pregnancy and it approximately four to five centimeters long and to be about two tablespoons full of what some describe as jelly or mucus. It can range in color from whitish yellow, to pink, taupe or brown.
Although the plug may have traces of blood in it, if it is followed by heavy bleeding, you need to call your healthcare provider. Although the loss of the plug is believed to be a sign that labor is imminent, in many cases in can take weeks for labor to start.
8 During: Cervix
Although technically part of the uterus, the cervix goes through many changes to allow the baby to enter the"V" during the process of birth.
In a non-pregnant female the cervix is roughly an inch long and cylindrical in shape. The lower part of the cervix bulges out into the top of the"V" . During pregnancy the baby's head will come (except in the case of breech birth) to be supported by the cervix.
Often a stretch and sweep will be offered around the 40th week appointment in order to encourage labor to begin. In a stretch and sweep, your healthcare provider will attempt to insert a finger into your cervix and 'sweep' it away from the membranes around the baby. This releases hormones called prostaglandins and may start labor. Some women find this uncomfortable, but it's a good way to practice your breathing for when labor starts.
As the uterus begins to contract regularly, the cervix will begin to thin out (effacement) and open (dilate) and rotate to face anteriorly. The cervix needs to dilate to 10 centimeters to accommodate a baby's head. Medical professionals will check the progression of the dilation of the cervix to make decisions during labor.
7 During: "V" Muscle Magic
Once the cervix has dilated 10 centimetres the uterus will push the baby into the"V" . It is at this point that the woman will likely feel the urge to push. The elasticity of the"V" allows it to also dilate about ten centimetres to allow the baby to pass through.
The bumpy walls inside of the"V" are called vaginal rugae. They make feel like wrinkles or folds but will stretch and swell to accommodate a tampon, penis or even a newborn baby. These folds typically appear after puberty and disappear after menopause.
Although not the most comfortable visual, many liken this process to a person pulling their head through a turtleneck sweater, which will stretch to accommodate them. The muscular vaginal wall also helps to push the baby down and out. Keeping your pelvic floor strong through Kegel muscles throughout the pregnancy will help during pushing.
6 During: Tearing
The thought of being torn ‘down there’ can be a frightening one. Although, many healthcare providers prefer to have the "V" tear naturally. A vaginal tear, which is considered normal and common, especially for first time mothers, is a spontaneous laceration to the area between the vagina and the anus, called the perineum.
According to Parents.com, first time mothers have a 95 per cent of experiencing some degree of tearing from childbirth. The odds of tearing increase if you have a fast birth, if you are overweight, if the baby comes out face up, or if you have a forceps or vacuum assisted delivery. This tear can significantly affect things down there and may make the recovery process after birth a little longer and strenuous. In many cases, stitches are put in place and until fully healed, it may feel like everything below the waist is all messed up and botched. But trust that you will heal and thing will slowly, and eventually get back to normal.
5 During: Cutting
An episiotomy is a cut the perineum (the area between a woman's"V" and anus) made during labor to widen the birth canal and prevent spontaneous tearing. Although occasionally necessary during a vaginal delivery, episiotomies are no longer routinely administered. An episiotomy is still considered medically necessary if the baby is breech, in distress or the mother's"V" opening is 'too small'. There are many risks associated with episiotomies including:
- Infection and swelling
- Pain after birth
- Urine and fecal incontinence
- Weakened pelvic floor muscles
- Tears to the anus or into the rectum, which can require surgery
- Additional blood loss
- Delayed intercourse
It may be a good idea to ask your doctor about your chances of getting an episiotomy. However, sometimes these decisions are based on "in the moment" labor situations and getting one done is out of the mother's control.
4 During: The Big "O"
Does the thought of the big O while pushing out your baby seem too good to be true? It is possible, according to a study conducted by psychologist Thierry Postel of Blainville-sur-Mer, France orgasmic birth was reported in .03 per cent of births.
Less than one per cent of births? Unfortunately, yes. But according to Elizabeth Davis, author of “Orgasmic Birth: Your Guide to a Safe, Satisfying and Pleasurable Birth Experience” it is something we should all be striving for.
“To clarify—orgasmic birth does not necessarily mean you experience orgasm but that you birth connected to your body and your baby with feelings of ecstasy and release, as supported by normal physiology."
Davis said that when women are not able to orgasm during birth it is usually due to environmental factors or interventions. For example, if a woman was to have an epidural, she would be numb to any release or pleasure sensations during birth.
So should all be aiming for the big O as we are bearing down? It can happen, says the study reported by 956 French midwives. In 668 cases mothers told midwives they'd felt orgasmic sensations in birth. Midwives reported they'd seen mothers demonstrate signs of pleasure during childbirth in another 868 cases. Finally, nine mothers completed questionnaires confirming they'd experienced an orgasm during birth.
3 After: A Bigger Hoo-Ha
After birth, the "V" may appear and feel swollen or bruised. Many women find relief through carefully icing this area to relieve this discomfort. Studies show that 92 per cent of Canadian women reported being in significant pain in their perineum the day after a vaginal delivery. That number drops to 61 per cent seven days postpartum and seven per cent six weeks after delivery.
The "V" may also appear gaping and wider. This should subside in a few days but your"V" will not return completely to its pre-birth shape and instead remain a little larger. Kegel exercises can help combat this. By toning your pelvic floor muscles, you can help combat incontinence issues, make your"V" feel firmer and potentially makes sex feel better.
Kegel exercises are performed by isolating pelvic floor muscles. One way to exercise and isolate these muscles are to practice stopping the flow of urine while using the restroom. Once women are able to isolate these muscles, they can be strengthen by tightening the muscle for 10 seconds and releasing for 10 seconds.
2 After: Dryness
With a dip in estrogen levels following the birth of a child, it is normal for women to experience vaginal dryness. Breastfeeding will cause estrogen levels to dip even further making the issue even more prominent, says the NHS in London.
Once breastfeeding stops and or when periods resume moisture levels should return back to normal. In the meantime, it is advised to use lubrication during intercourse to ease any discomfort.
Although, having sex may seem like the last thing you want to do if experiencing vaginal dryness, according to HealthLine.com, regular intercourse promotes healthy lubrication. In other words, it’s a natural and fun approach to take. Because vaginal dryness can be caused by a dip in estrogen, introducing more soy or yams in your diet can help to mimic estrogen and help alleviate this. The judge is still out on whether these dietary changes make any significant difference, but they are tasty medicine. If the dryness continues to be an issue you can speak to your doctor or midwife.
If the dryness continues to be an issue you can speak to your doctor or midwife.
1 After: Postpartum Bleeding
Most women love the fact that pregnancy omits them from having a monthly cycle, well unfortunately once the baby is born the bleeding comes back with a vengeance. Heavy bleeding coupled with soreness and stitches isn’t the best combination. Good thing you have a newborn to sweeten the deal. Many moms will pack bladder control pads in their hospital bag for the first few days and then switch to large absorbency pads once the bleeding subsides. Postpartum mothers cannot use tampons and need to make sure to keep themselves clean.
You may experience pain in your perineum if you had an episiotomy or tearing. Check with your healthcare provider which over the counter pain medications are safe to use if you are breastfeeding.
Speaking of breastfeeding, you may notice your uterus contracting as you feed. The oxytocin released while you feed will also help lessen your postpartum bleed and cause your uterus to contract. This is normal, and is one of the ways your body speeds up the uterus returning to its normal size. It will take about six weeks for a breastfeeding mom versus 10 weeks if you choose to bottle feedings.