It will come as a shock to no-one to learn that during a ‘natural’ birth the female body will need to stretch to accommodate the baby’s size. Depending on how stretchy you are naturally and how quickly you push, you might tear during the process. Most women tear a bit during labour. Sometimes to make the opening wider and prevent a more serious tear, a doctor or midwife might need to perform a small cut in the area called an episiotomy.
Enter perineal massage. The perineum is the bit of skin that sits between your vagina and your anus. It, along with your vagina, is what is stretching during childbirth and it is the perineum that is most likely to tear. Some research has shown that if you regularly massage the area beforehand, you can reduce your chance of tearing during the real thing.
Kind of like stretching before a big race, but somewhat more awkward to do in public…
How do I do it?
You can do it yourself if you can reach (though you might find you need a mirror at the start to help guide you – especially given your bump will by now be very much in the way), or you can ask a partner to help you.
When you’re ready, lie on your back, bring your feet together (bent at the knees) and tuck them up as close to your bottom as you can. Then let your knees fall open.
Using pregnancy-safe, internal-safe massage oil (vegetable oil works well), massage the perineum.
Then whomever is doing the massage takes their thumbs and places them inside the vagina (about 2cm) and gently but firmly pushes/massages downwards in a U shape. You will need to hold for about 30-60 seconds, then release. No doubt you’ll feel the stretch, but it shouldn’t hurt.
If you’re comfortable, you can work up to stretching it for 5 minutes at a time over the coming weeks. Over time, the area will become looser.
When should I do it?
Perennial massage works best from about 34 weeks. To keep the area flexible it’s sensible to do it at least once or twice a week up until birth.
…do I have to do it?
In short, no. Some women swear by it, others say they tore anyway. Ultimately, the most important thing is that you’re comfy. If this sounds like something for you, you can give it a try. If not, don’t feel like you’re dooming yourself to mammoth-sized tears or episiotomies as this is not the case – ultimately everyone’s body is different and everyone’s labour is different.
Written by Nadia Thompson