Pelvic & Vagina Healing Post Birth

Photo by  Tanja Heffner

Photo by Tanja Heffner

(A brief rant followed by some very solid advice for postpartum pelvic healing!)

We have a cultural obsession with bodily strength.  We are constantly bombarded with words and images that say, “you are not doing, or being, enough”—a popular mechanism for the circulation of wealth within an economy based on the consumer’s primal fear of not being good enough to belong.  

Not even our yonis are spared with Instagram campaigns of women cross-fitting their vaginas by hanging weighted objects out of them while donning yoga poses.  Ughhhhh!  Now, not only do I have to strive for the impossible task of “flat abs” but now my vagina also has to wield heavy objects?!?!?!

Women are terrified of their vaginas not being “tight enough.”  The layers revealed within this collective neuroses is worth a blog in and of itself.  I’ll keep it simple and straight for now:

This kind of thinking places yonis only within relationship to their use for the pleasure of penetrating penises.  

Would a vagina standing on her own really be worried about how “tight” she is?  Would she even think that it would be a beneficial thing to be “tight?”  When I think about tightness in my vagina, I cringe (and my vagina actually shrivels a bit).

Furthermore, I can never miss an opportunity to remind us all that it is not overly developed pelvic floor muscles that makes a vagina snug during penis in vagina (PIV), or any, sex—it’s the level of her arousal!  A fully aroused woman will feel “tight”— or rather, voluptuously warm, welcoming and juicy.

Overly tight yonis and pelvic floor muscles cause pain.  

I’m writing this piece for the volume of postpartum women that I’ve spoken to whose sacred birth portals have not become too loose for pleasurable PIV sex, but instead have become too tight and painful for it.  

First, what causes this post baby tightness?

The vagina is surrounded by a sling of muscles that stretch across the base of the body from the back of the pelvis to the front of the pelvis and side to side.  This group of muscles is categorized as the pelvic floor.  The pelvic floor is the primary support system for all of the internal organs and participates in arousal, childbirth, elimination and virtually every movement that you do being that it is the true “core” of the body—the bridge between upper and lower.  There are 11 muscles in the pelvic floor network and many others that influence and communicate with it.  Here is a visual image for you.

As in any muscle in the body the muscles of the pelvic floor can be too tight, too weak, underutilized or over-utilized.  These muscles hold tension and stress. They are more or less 11 muscles each with its own story and working in concert with other muscles throughout the body.  All of this is to say, this is a complex system whose healing and “development” can’t be simplified into random squeezing movements associated with kegels, jade eggs or vaginal weight lifting.  This is only one, overly simplistic, part of the story.  

Being that this is the central place of the body involved in virtually everything we do, it’s rather shocking to think that most everyone’s pelvic floors have never received mindful, therapeutic touch due to their close proximity to our sexy parts and bathroom parts within this Puritanical culture.  

So first, tightness and/or pain can be caused by a variety of muscular and myofascial imbalances—like any other part of the body.  These imbalances have likely been there for a long time resulting from postural, movement, sexual and elimination habits. These habits could have been amplified by the stress of pregnancy and/or illuminated by the entire re-organization that occurs in childbirth.

Postpartum tightness can also be caused by:

-Scar tissue and adhesions from tearing, episiotomy or C-sections.
-Hormonal changes that cause the thinning of tissue and challenges with arousal.
-Trauma and emotion stored in the muscles.
-Muscular and tissue trauma from the birth itself.

Read more about scar tissue here.

In all of these cases, attempting to “tighten” the vagina will only make matters worse and if there already isn’t pain, there will be eventually.  Instead of whipping your vagina back into shape, youwant to actually soften and release the muscles of your pelvic floor.

Here are some things you can do to soften and release the pelvic floor (PF).

  1. Diaphragmatic Breathing - Take slow, gentle deep breaths into the breathing diaphragm.  Relax through your ribs, your chest, your abdomen and your pelvic floor.  See if you can feel these breaths all the way down into the base of your pelvis, massaging this area open.
  2. Vaginal Steaming - An ancient, traditional healing practice found in many different parts of the world.  Steaming helps to soften and restore the vaginal tissues and PF muscles.  More and more women are getting on the vaginal steam movement and there are resources popping up everywhere. With an internet search you can find out more about making your own steam with herbs, order kits and find practitioners offering this service.  In Los Angeles you can find vaginal steam treatments at many of the Korean Spas.  
  3. Create Pressure on the Perineum - The perineum is the space between your vagina and your anus and a location where many of the PF muscles meet.  You can apply constant direct pressure here to release the PF by either rolling a washcloth or small towel up or finding the right sized exercise/massage ball and sitting on it directly at the perineum.  This pressure can be intense but you should be able to breathe through it.  If you can’t take your relaxed, diaphragmatic breaths then back up to something smaller.
  4. Castor Oil - Castor oil has a softening effect overall and it aids in dissolving scar tissue.  It can be added to another oil for direct massage of the tight or scar restricted areas.  Applying castor oil packs to your abdomen will also support the release of your PF.  Another treatment is to soak an organic cotton tampon in castor oil and insert it into the vagina for about 20 minutes.  This will create a softening effect throughout the PF. 

    Go slow with your use of castor oil!  It is rare but possible you can have an allergic reaction to castor oil so be sure to test it on a small area of your skin if you’ve never used it.  Castor oil also causes detoxing effects so start in small doses and shorter amounts of time and notice how you feel during and after the process, if you’re feeling good, add more amount and/or length in.  (Yes, you can use castor oil if you are breastfeeding).

    Find castor oil pack instructions here.
  5. Self massage - See this interview I did with Leslie Howard on self PF massage.  Share it with your partner or an awesome friend and ask them to give you this gift.  It’s far easier to have someone else release your PF than to do it yourself.
  6. Pelvic Release with a Professional - I am of the belief that we should all be receiving PF release work as part of our thriving health practices and women who have had babies should especially receive at least one PF session!  The types of practitioners that offer this work are specialized physical therapists, myofascial therapists, occupational therapists, and sexological bodyworkers.  Not all therapists are created equal—interview them about their technique and experience and get referrals from someone that has experienced their work whenever possible.
  7. REST - this probably should have been the first one, but I’m placing it here so you leave with this message.  The primary thing a postpartum body needs is rest, rejuvenation and rebuilding.  Nourish yourself well on all levels and take lots of time to rest and bask in the fleeting moments of new mommy-hood.

No matter where you are and what you are experiencing in this moment, know that there is a road to recovery and there are ALWAYS answers.  The healing journey is a winding road, keep asking, keep listening and honoring your body.

Become an expert on the pelvic floor and postpartum healing at The Artemis School’s Nurture module--October 2017 in Ojai, CA

As always, this yoni rant is in service to all yonis everywhere.  May we remember and reclaim her full wisdom and power.