By Katherine Schreiber
You probably know the basics of childbirth — you’re pregnant for about nine months, your water breaks, you go into labor … etc. You may be aware that this process is simultaneously painful, arduous, beautiful, incredible and debilitatingly exhausting (though, as many moms will attest: #totallyworthit).
But what exactly happens to your body when (and after) you give birth — whether via C-section or vaginal delivery? More specifically: What exactly happens to your vagina? We spoke with three women who’ve been through the birthing process (some, multiple times) and two gynecologists to get the no-frills, actual truth about what to expect if you’re expecting … or just curious about the lengths (and widths!) your vagina can possibly go to, to bring a child into the world.
During pregnancy, a redistribution of blood flow and change in pH level cause the vagina’s smell, taste, color and sensation to change in several ways. You’ll likely be more tender down there, says Dr. Adeeti Gupta, OB/GYN and founder of Walk In GYN Care. You may experience more yeast infections. And you may be at an increased risk of contracting a UTI. You’ll also see more discharge in your underwear than normal — thanks to hormones that cause the walls of your vagina to secrete leukorrhea, says Gupta, a milky discharge that women like Taryn Myers, a mom of one from Virginia, describe as feeling “warm and wet.”
Beginning in the second trimester and ramping up in the third, you might experience non-labor contractions (a.k.a. “Braxton Hicks,” named after a British physician who medically classified them in 1872). These mild menstrual-cramp-like sensations typically occur in the lower abdomen and groin and are thought to prep the muscles in the uterus for actual labor, soften the cervix, and increase blood flow to the placenta. Physical activity, sex, dehydration, and having a full bladder can trigger them, says Gupta.
[ READ WHAT COMES NEXT: WHAT ACTUALLY HAPPENS TO YOUR VAGINA DURING BIRTH? ]
Katherine Schreiber is a contributor to the Public Goods Blog, a publication about health, sustainability and people making an impact. Check it out for a wide range of topics: everything from product reviews and pesticides to watch out for to interior design and non-gmo foods.