As expecting mothers get closer to their expected delivery or due date, it’s common to go over everything we can do to prepare for our new baby. We make checklists and go over them a thousand times, but we have something that you may want to include in the list that you may have never expected, Perineal Massage!
Aside from preparing the baby’s space and organizing things for the trip to the hospital and the welcome home, it’s essential that we train our bodies for the big event. Perineal massages help soften the tissues that stretch during vaginal delivery. Giving your body extra attention in the final weeks of pregnancy can help avoid tearing, bruising, or episiotomy, making recovery easier.
What Is A Perineal Massage?
A woman’s perineum is the area of tissue between the opening of our vagina and the anus. It attaches to the muscles that support our reproductive organs, bladder, and bowels, which make up the pelvic floor.
A perineal massage is manipulating and stretching the perineal tissue using one or two fingers. The goal is to prepare or train the tissues to stretch over our baby’s head and body during vaginal delivery, which helps avoid rips or tears. You can give yourself a perineal massage at home by yourself or with the help of your partner (if you feel comfortable with that).
Benefits of Perineal Massaging
Between 40 and 80 percent of women will experience tearing during vaginal birth. Around two-thirds of those tears require stitches. Damage to the perineum can lead to various issues with the pelvic floor, which may include uterine prolapse, sexual discomfort, or urinary or fecal incontinence.
Some benefits of perineal massage to prepare for childbirth include:
- Prepares the vaginal tissues for delivery.
- Lowers the risk of perineum tears.
- Reduces the need for stitches and episiotomy.
- Helps with previous scar tissue caused by injury or that has rigid perineum.
- Prepares the body for birth.
When To Start Perineal Massage
Many experts recommend beginning perineal massage around the 34-week mark of your pregnancy. Start with massaging once or twice a week. While recommendations differ between individuals, some sources say to repeat massages every day or every other day. We say speak to your PCP or OBGYN to see what they recommend is best for your body.
Using Oil For Perineal Massage
A variety of oils can be used for perineal massage. The reason we use oil is for lubrication to eliminate friction. Choosing which oil you want to use is about personal preference.
Whatever you decide to use, it’s best to steer clear of using synthetic lubricants or oils such as mineral oil, petroleum jelly, and baby oil.
Step-By-Step How-To Give Perineal Massage
1: Wash Your Hands: Every massage session should begin with washing your hands. It’s best to use a mild soap that won’t irritate the skin around the perineum. If you have long fingernails, you may want to trim them to avoid poking or scratching the delicate skin.
2: Get Comfortable: Get yourself set up in a comfortable private space. Some women prefer to perform a perineal massage while lying on a bed or sofa with their legs open and knees bent. If you choose to sit upright, consider using a pregnancy pillow or pillows to support your upper body.
If sitting up or laying down isn’t comfortable for you, there are other options. You can massage while you’re in the shower with one leg on a stool or the rim of the tub (make sure to alternate legs). Sitting on the restroom is an option some women prefer. It’s all up to you and your comfort zone.
3: Begin The Massage: If you’re using a natural oil or lubricant, apply some to your clean hands. Start by placing one or both thumbs 1 to 1½ inches inside your vagina. (You may want to use a mirror the first couple of times to ensure you’re in the right area.)
With your thumbs in position, press them along the back wall of your vagina toward the anus. Don’t press too hard, but you should apply enough pressure to feel stretching and a slight burning sensation.
4: Stretching: Keep your thumbs in the stretched position for 1 to 2 minutes. Then continue by moving your thumbs outward and inward slowly, in a U-shaped motion. Keep in mind, we’re targeting the tissues on the inside of our vagina, but we should feel sensations on the outside as well.
Relax - We must relax both our mind and body during our massage. While it may seem uncomfortable, many women become more comfortable with the act and sensations as the tissues stretch. Keep your eyes on the time; a perineal massage should last no longer than 5 minutes a session.
Partners Helping Hands
Asking your partner to assist you with a perineal massage is OK. Sometimes we’re not comfortable performing one on ourselves, or the positions are complicated. If that’s the case, guide your partner through the same steps as the personal message, except they should use their index fingers instead of thumbs.
Pregnancy and delivery can be a lot to handle, both emotionally and physically. Every step we take to provide strength and comfort to the situation is worth taking. Perineal massages can be highly beneficial for the delivery process and the healing afterward.