One of the many mysteries around childbirth is: How will I push something the size of a small watermelon out of my body without breaking into two?
The short answer is, your body can do miraculous things. One way or another, you will deliver that beautiful baby of yours.
But sometimes this comes at a cost. During my first childbirth, I got a second-degree tear. Tearing is fairly common, especially among first-time moms. Less common these days though (thankfully) is episiotomy, a surgical cut between the vagina and anus to aid in delivery.
Is it possible to avoid tearing or episiotomy? Is there a way to prepare your body for that great big stretch during childbirth?
Read on for everything you need to know about perineal massage.
What is the perineum?
The perineum is the soft skin between the anus and the vagina. Because of its proximity to where the baby exits the vaginal canal, as well as the pressure put on it while pushing, this delicate area is prone to tearing—especially for women having their first vaginal birth.
But not all tears are the same. Some are tiny, heal quickly, and require no special treatment. While others may end up on the other end of the spectrum, with deep lacerations requiring stitches and weeks of healing and discomfort.
If only there was something we could do to help prep this area for the flexibility and stretching required for the baby to enter the world with your perineum intact… Enter, perineal massage.
What is perineal massage?
Perineal massage is exactly what it sounds like: massaging the perineum. Some women do it for themselves, and others will ask their partners to help. Often, it is done throughout pregnancy.
What for? Perineal massage is done to stretch and increase flexibility in the perineum in preparation for birth, in hopes of keeping the area intact—or at least minimizing perineal trauma during delivery.
Benefits of prenatal perineal massage
Though there don’t seem to be any benefits to perineal massage done during the pushing stages of labor (and it may even cause trouble), the perineal massage done throughout pregnancy has many potential benefits.
Easing pain during crowning
It’s said that perineal massage can ease the “ring of fire” so often experienced while baby’s head is crowning. The idea is that gently stretching the perineum regularly will allow it to stretch more easily when the baby is crowning, causing less pain.
Helping the baby’s head come out easier and/or quicker
Again, if the perineum stretches more easily, baby’s head may come out more easily or quickly. It may also mentally prepare you for the feeling of pressure and stretching and may help you become more comfortable with it. If you know what to expect, you may be less tense and more able to stretch.