Creating a birth plan is no mean feat–there’s a lot to consider, after all, and your baby’s given you a non-negotiable deadline.
When putting your birth plan together, you’ll be faced with predicting every situation that might arise leading up to, during and after the birth—don’t forget the days and weeks postpartum, too!
But, no matter how meticulously you’ve covered all angles, your baby might not have gotten the memo. You may find things happen beyond your control, and beyond the control of the medical staff around you, and some aspects of your birth plan may go awry.
Birth complications mean communication is key
Unfortunately, for some women, these complications could make birth and the aftermath significantly more difficult. New research by specialist lawyers Bolt Burdon Kemp found that almost 1 in 10 women felt they had no one to talk to about vaginal health throughout their pregnancy journey.
We want to change that statistic. Here are some of the common issues you and your vagina might face during your entry into motherhood:
1. Vaginal tearing during labor. Going into labor typically means contractions. In this first stage of labor, contractions help open your cervix (that’s what ‘dilating’ is) and you’ll need to persevere through the contractions until your cervix opens to at least 10cm. That’s when the second stage of labor begins, and you can start pushing your baby out. And this is also when vaginal tearing could occur.
What is vaginal tearing?
Vaginal tearing is the name given to the accidental tearing of your vagina, and this tearing could extend to the muscles between your vagina and anus (known as the perineum). Vaginal tears can happen if your baby is pushed out too quickly, before your perineum has had a chance to stretch. Depending on your progress, your midwife or doctor may recommend an episiotomy–a small cut along the perineum–to help prevent accidental tearing. Do some research and make sure this is factored into your birth plan as a possible eventuality.
Eventually, your baby’s head (or buttocks, because some babies feel alternate) will start to show. Despite what the movies tell you, you’ll need to stop pushing at this stage and let your baby come out slowly. This could also help reduce the chances of accidental vaginal tearing as you’re giving the perineum time to stretch gently out.
Fortunately, there are things you can do to help your perineum out. Practice pelvic floor exercises throughout your pregnancy to ensure your pelvic muscles are strong and supportive during labor. In the weeks before your due date, give yourself some perineum massages to get the muscles more flexible. You could do this yourself or ask your birthing partner to help. Limit these to twice a week to keep the muscles supple in time for the birth. Perineum massages won’t eliminate the possibility of vaginal tearing completely but can help give the vagina a better chance of surviving unscathed.
2. Your vagina may change in size and behavior. It’s normal for your vagina to feel sore and painful directly after birth—and for a few weeks or months afterward too. If anything doesn’t feel quite right, don’t hold back from going to the doctor. With research finding that almost half of women (47%) admit to not knowing enough about their reproductive health to know what is normal and what is not, it’s all the more important to both keep yourself informed and seek advice from your doctor if you’re ever not sure. After birth, you may also find that things are different down there.
Your vagina may feel looser for example.
Your vagina might feel looser than normal, but this is less because your vagina itself has been stretched out and more because your pelvic floor muscles have become weaker. Keep going with your Kegel exercises to help strengthen the muscles. Kegels can also help with any incontinence issues you may have, so you can ditch that post-pregnancy diaper a little earlier.
Your discharge may change too.
You’ll have heavy discharge called lochia in the weeks after birth, but you may also find changes in your regular discharge. Up until day 10, it may be more watery, and pink or brown in color. In the days that follow, the color may transition into a cream or yellow, and slowly return to the typical color and texture you’re used to.
You may also have vaginal dryness, particularly if you’re breastfeeding (because it lowers your estrogen levels). This could mean you find it painful to have sex, so it’s important not to rush or force things, even if you’re mentally ready to have sex again. Doctors recommend waiting four to six weeks after birth to have sex and using plenty of lube when you do.
If you still have questions about your reproductive health, don’t hesitate to keep researching and asking your doctor questions. Learn as much as possible, so you’re aware of what’s to come and all the options available to you so you can be prepared and as relaxed as possible on the day and all the days following your baby’s birth.