Ten Ways Your Body Changes After Giving Birth
By James Haley, MD, FACOG, FPMRS
Dr. James Haley of Cherokee Women’s Health explains ten ways a woman’s body changes after giving birth.
Giving birth is an incredible life experience, but many women are not prepared for the way their body changes after giving birth. After a woman sees her body change through nine months of pregnancy, it’s often thought that things should return to normal after the baby is born. This is often not the norm, and many women may want to mentally prepare for the after-effects of what their changed body may be like after giving birth.
What are the Most Common Body Changes a Woman can Expect?
It is perfectly normal to wonder what happens to your vagina after birth. Will it ever be the same down there? Will it be forever changed? Does it make a difference after a C-section or a vaginal delivery?
Some of the most common changes occur after a vaginal delivery, however, sometimes women that have had C-sections can experience some of these effects as well.
Pushing a baby out of your vagina is no small feat – especially when you realize the size of the baby and the size of the vagina. Even though childbirth takes a toll on the vagina, it is created by design to handle it. The vagina is resilient and can bounce back to a certain degree. It can take almost a year for a vagina to go back to its pre-birth state, but that isn’t always the case. Some things may never be quite the same.
So, what can you expect? If you give birth vaginally, here are some changes you might experience in your vagina after birth:
1. You will be sore, especially the vagina and perineum.
The perineum is the area between your vagina and anus. Though it’s not technically part of your vagina, it can also tear during a vaginal delivery. If you think about the size of the baby’s head coming out of your vagina, you can certainly understand the reason for the pain and possible tearing.
Between 53 and 79 percent of vaginal deliveries will cause some kind of tearing, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, but there are actually four degrees of lacerations, with each building on the ones before it.
Types of Tears
First-degree tears only involve the skin around the vaginal opening, or the perineal skin and they may or may not need stitches. These typically heal within a month.
Second-degree tears involve damage to the perineal muscles, which help support the uterus, bladder, and rectum, and usually require stitches. These tears also typically heal within a month.
Third-degree tears are lacerations of the perineal muscles and the muscle around the anus. Unlike the less serious tears, these require careful surgical repair and can take up to 3 months to heal.
Fourth-degree tears, which affect the perineal muscles, muscles around the anus, and the tissue lining the rectum, are the most serious. Like third-degree tears, they require careful and comprehensive repair and may take even longer than 3 months to heal.
No matter the degree, if you tear during your delivery, you will be sore. Sometimes the doctor may do an episiotomy (an incision) if the baby is large or gets stuck on the way out. If this is done, it will also cause you to be sore as it heals as well.
2. Your vagina may be wider after giving birth.
While your vagina and vaginal opening typically shrink back down after stretching during a vaginal birth, having a big baby, a baby with a big head, or several vaginal deliveries could make it less likely to go back to its pre-birth state.
Your vagina might be slightly wider than it was in the past. This is by no means something that will definitely happen, but many women do say this occurs.
3. Your vagina may be looser after giving birth.
Many women notice weaker vaginal muscles after giving birth and often complain that “their vagina feels loose.” Many women after a vaginal birth or even after a C-section notice changes in their vaginal muscles. The pressure of pregnancy and birth on the pelvic floor can cause stretching of the muscles. The muscles may improve over time, but often do not. Kegel exercises and pelvic floor therapy can help strengthen these muscles. If it continues to be a problem, Vaginoplasty can dramatically improve a loose vagina.
See if Vaginoplasty is right for you.
4. There may be scar tissue in your vagina.
If you had a tear or episiotomy after a delivery, you’re probably going to have some scar tissue in your vagina and on your perineum afterwards. This can definitely affect your sex life after giving birth. The scar tissue usually heals over time, making sex more comfortable as time goes on. But if you find that it’s not getting better with time, talk to your doctor. Some women need corrective surgery to remove the scar tissue and make the pain manageable.
Learn more about Vaginal Rejuvenation.
5. Your period may change – either heavier or lighter.
It may take some time for your period to come back after childbirth. Pregnancy causes your hormones to be like a rollercoaster, so it takes a bit for your body to reset after giving birth. This is especially true if you’re breastfeeding, which causes low levels of estrogen that can alter menstruation.
When you do start getting your period again, it may be lighter or heavier than before. If your estrogen is generally lower than it was before you got pregnant, your uterine lining can be thinner, causing a lighter period. If your estrogen is higher, your lining may build up more thickly, creating a heavier period.
6. You may have a heavy vaginal discharge.
After giving birth, there is the residual blood, mucus, and tissue that comes from the vagina. This is called lochia and can last four to six weeks after childbirth. Over time the color can change, typically it goes from a bright red color to a kind of pink or brown hue before eventually becoming yellowish. Often times women need to wear heavy pads to help with the steady flow. While passing a few blood clots no bigger than a golf ball can be normal, if you see any larger than that, you should consult with your doctor. You may also notice an odor, but it is normal.
7. Your vagina may be drier.
When you’re pregnant, elevated levels of certain hormones such as estrogen are surging through your body. Then, after you give birth, your estrogen drops, which can lead to vaginal dryness.
Estrogen helps to keep your vaginal tissue moist with a clear lubricating fluid. Without enough estrogen, not only will you not have the same level of moisture, the vaginal tissue can become thinner. All of this can make it much drier than normal in your vagina after giving birth.
If you’re not breastfeeding, your vaginal moisture may go back to normal within a few weeks. But breastfeeding can keep those estrogen levels low, which can make you dry the whole time you’re nursing. Once you stop nursing, your vagina should go back to its normal and hydrated state.
If vaginal dryness continues to be a problem, your doctor can help.
Learn more about vaginal dryness.
8. You may develop urine leakage.
Childbirth (both by a vaginal birth or C-section) can damage your pelvic floor. Your pelvic floor consists of muscles and other tissues that help keep organs such as your uterus, bladder, and bowel in the correct positions so they function properly.
Childbirth can also affect the muscles and nerves that control your bladder and urethra (the tube through which urine leaves your body). All of this can lead to bladder leakage – especially when walking, running, coughing, laughing, or sneezing.
Sometimes the urinary incontinence will improve in time, but not always. Up to half of all women will experience some sort of incontinence in their lifetime. Women are twice as likely to have this condition as men, and it is attributed to pregnancy and childbirth.
When the problem is mild, Kegel exercises and pelvic floor therapy may help reinforce your pelvic floor and combat urinary incontinence. If symptoms don’t improve, seek help from a urogynecologist, who is trained specifically to help women improve incontinence and other pelvic prolapse conditions.
9. Your orgasms may be different.
Muscles of the vagina and uterus produce powerful, rhythmic contractions during an orgasm. If your pelvic floor has weakened due to childbirth, those contractions may no longer be as strong, so you might find your orgasms don’t feel as intense as they once were. Since it is due to a change in the pelvic floor, many women can experience a change in orgasm whether they had a C-section or vaginal birth.
Kegel exercises may help you strengthen your pelvic floor and, over time, regain some of that intensity. If Kegels don’t make enough of a difference, talk to your doctor about other in-office treatments that can help.
Download our FREE O-Shot eBook and see how the O-Shot can help you!
10. Your vulva might be a different color.
Many women notice a change of color in the vulva, more specifically the labia and the perineum. The color changes are typically noticeable to those that experience scar tissue and tearing. Women with lighter skin often notice more pigment changes, such as blotches of darker pigmentation.
While some of these changes can be difficult to experience, they are all very common. It is important for all women to realize that there is nothing at all wrong with them, it’s just a normal part of going through the miracle of childbirth.
Childbirth causes the vagina to go through a completely natural change after doing something quite amazing. Always know that you shouldn’t be shy or embarrassed to bring any questions or concerns up with your doctor. We are here to help, and getting you to feel your best is our highest priority.
Help is Available
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call us at 770.720.7733 or request an appointment online. Our double board-certified urogynecologists are female health experts and can help you find the solution that’s right for you.