During pregnancy, a woman’s body undergoes numerous changes to support the growth and development of the fetus, you expect your body to go through many obvious changes, such as larger breasts and a growing abdomen. What you may not know is your vagina goes through changes, too. It’s important to understand how pregnancy affects vaginal health, even after you give birth.
If you know what’s normal for your vagina during pregnancy, you’ll be more likely to head- off potential complications. Here are some ways your vagina is affected by pregnancy:
However, it is important to note that not all vaginal discharge during pregnancy is normal. If the discharge is accompanied by itching, burning, a strong odor, or if it is bloody or greenish-yellow in color, it could be a sign of an infection and should be evaluated by a healthcare provider.
It is also important to practice good hygiene during pregnancy, such as wearing breathable cotton underwear, avoiding scented products in the genital area, and wiping from front to back after using the bathroom. This can help prevent infections and keep the vaginal area healthy.
How Pregnancy Affects Vaginal Health
Estrogen helps to maintain the health of the vaginal tissues, by keeping them moist and elastic, and supporting the growth of lactobacilli, which are beneficial bacteria that help to maintain a healthy vaginal pH. However, high levels of estrogen can also increase the risk of vaginal infections, such as yeast infections.
Progesterone, on the other hand, helps to relax the smooth muscles in the uterus, allowing it to expand and accommodate the growing fetus. However, progesterone can also relax other smooth muscles in the body, including the muscles that control the bladder and bowel, leading to issues such as constipation and urinary incontinence.
The hormonal changes during pregnancy also affect the menstrual cycle, which usually stops during pregnancy. Additionally, hormones such as human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) and relaxin, which are produced during pregnancy, can also affect various organs and tissues in the body, including the uterus, placenta, and joints.
Overall, hormonal changes during pregnancy are necessary for a healthy pregnancy and delivery, but they can also have some side effects and risks that need to be monitored and managed by healthcare providers.
The increased blood flow can cause the vaginal tissues to become swollen and more sensitive. This can make sexual intercourse uncomfortable or even painful for some women, particularly in the later stages of pregnancy. It can also increase the risk of vaginal varicose veins, which are swollen veins in the vaginal area that can be painful or itchy.
Additionally, the increased blood flow to the pelvic region can also cause the veins in the legs to become swollen, leading to varicose veins. This can cause discomfort and pain in the legs, and may require treatment or compression stockings to manage.
Overall, the increased blood flow during pregnancy is a normal and necessary part of the pregnancy process, but it can have some side effects and risks that need to be monitored and managed by healthcare providers. Pregnant women can take steps to alleviate discomfort, such as using pillows or cushions for support during sex, staying hydrated, and doing gentle exercise to improve blood circulation.
Urinary incontinence is a common issue during pregnancy and can result from the pressure of the uterus on the bladder, as well as hormonal changes that affect bladder control. This can cause leakage of urine when coughing, sneezing, or exercising. Pelvic organ prolapse occurs when the pelvic floor muscles become weakened and stretched, causing one or more of the pelvic organs, such as the bladder, uterus, or rectum, to descend into the vagina.
To prevent or manage these issues, healthcare providers may recommend pelvic floor exercises, also known as Kegels, which can help to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles. Additionally, avoiding constipation and heavy lifting, maintaining a healthy weight, and staying hydrated can also help to support the pelvic floor muscles.
It is important to discuss any concerns about pelvic floor issues with your healthcare provider, as they can provide guidance on how to manage and prevent these issues during pregnancy and postpartum.
Delivery, whether it is vaginal or by Cesarean section, can have an impact on vaginal health. During vaginal delivery, the tissues of the vagina and perineum (the area between the vagina and anus) can become stretched and may tear, particularly if an episiotomy is performed (a surgical cut made at the opening of the vagina to aid delivery). These tears can be uncomfortable and painful and may increase the risk of infection.
After delivery, the vagina may take some time to heal, and women may experience issues such as vaginal dryness, discomfort during sex, and pain or soreness in the perineal area. It is important to practice good hygiene and follow any postpartum care instructions provided by your healthcare provider to promote healing and prevent infection.
In some cases, delivery can also cause damage to the pelvic floor muscles, leading to issues such as urinary incontinence, fecal incontinence, and pelvic organ prolapse. Pelvic floor exercises, also known as Kegels, can help to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles and prevent or manage these issues.
It is important to discuss any concerns about delivery and postpartum recovery with your healthcare provider, as they can provide guidance on how to manage and prevent these issues and promote a healthy recovery.
One common postpartum change is vaginal discharge, also known as lochia. Lochia is a normal discharge that contains blood, mucus, and uterine tissue and can last for several weeks after delivery. It is important to practice good hygiene and use sanitary pads or other menstrual products to manage lochia and prevent infection.
Breastfeeding can also have an impact on vaginal health, as it can cause hormonal changes that can lead to vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex. It is important to stay hydrated, practice good hygiene, and communicate with your healthcare provider if you are experiencing discomfort.
Postpartum depression and anxiety can also affect vaginal health, as stress and anxiety can cause physical symptoms such as vaginal dryness or discomfort. It is important to seek support and treatment if you are experiencing postpartum depression or anxiety.
Overall, postpartum changes can have an impact on vaginal health, and it is important to practice good hygiene, stay hydrated, and communicate with your healthcare provider about any concerns or issues.