Vaginas bring you pleasure, birth babies, and sometimes write monologues. During pregnancy, all the emphasis is on the baby and the uterus, and the vagina's starring roles are usually limited to conception and birth. But while you're paying more attention to your uterus, your vagina may decide to do its own thing. What’s your vagina doing during this time? Does the vagina get bigger during pregnancy like your uterus?
In general, the vagina does experience some physical pregnancy-related changes that can certainly make things feel bigger down there. “During pregnancy, blood vessels dilate, and hormones cause increased blood flow to the genitals,” says Dr. Michael Ingber, M.D., a gynecological surgeon specializing in medical and surgical therapy of changes with the vagina. These changes alter the vagina’s pH levels, appearance, and color, he says, and these vaginal debuts can lead to increased odor, susceptibility to urinary tract infections and yeast infections, and increased discharge and sensitivity. Sounds glam.
But it turns out, your vagina's size stays pretty much the same. Amy L. Gilliland, Ph.D., birth doula and researcher, says the size of the vagina does not change during pregnancy, but that it does respond to pregnancy hormones and increased blood flow. According to her, a person’s blood volume increases by 20 percent during pregnancy, which means there is a lot more fluid being pumped through the circulatory system. She adds that mucous membranes in the body tend to become swollen as the pregnancy progresses, too. "So pregnant people are more likely to experience genital swelling, including the vagina, and more mucus production," she says. But there are times when the vagina can actually grow in length.
"The vagina does increase in length during sexual arousal," she notes. "The usual size of a non-menopausal person’s vagina is about 3 to 4 inches in an unaroused state, and can lengthen to 5 to 6 inches in an aroused state."
She adds that for intercourse with a larger penis, the vagina can stretch further if it wants to. All of this is temporary. Gilliland says, however, that increased genital swelling due to higher blood circulation does not mean that the vagina has gotten larger as a result, and that a person would need to be sexually aroused for that to occur.
"As pregnancy progresses, the growing baby does put pressure on all the internal organs, squishing them and causing them to redistribute their location in the body," Gilliland notes. "So the bladder and rectum can’t handle as much volume as they used to, but the vagina stays about the same."
Ingber explains that the pressure from baby’s head can press on what’s called the pudendal nerve. Over time, this pressure can cause urine to leak or pain in the vagina. The big changes to the vagina can also happen after pregnancy is over, but they don’t mean your vagina is somehow loose. The pelvic muscles that support all of the pelvic organs, including the vagina, can weaken, says Ingber. “Many women will develop vaginal prolapse, where the vaginal wall can herniate through the opening,” he says. Harvard Medical School reported that pelvic floor physical therapy can help treat pelvic organ prolapse.
If you're feeling uncomfortable heaviness, pressure, or trouble going to the bathroom, talk to your OB-GYN. Otherwise, just remember that your vagina is creating all kinds of new smells and textures during your pregnancy, but getting bigger isn't one of them. If you can even see your vagina at this point in pregnancy, consider yourself lucky.
Dr. Michael Ingber, M.D., board-certified urogynecologist at The Center for Specialized Women's Health
Amy L. Gilliland, Ph.D., birth doula and researcher
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