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This blog was published in partnership with My Expert Midwife.
Pregnancy brings with it so many different experiences. Bodies are made to do amazing things during birth, and the perineal area is no exception. It’s resilient and designed to stretch to help make sure your baby makes it safely out of the birth canal. However, there is a trick you can use to increase the flexibility of the perineal area called perineal massage.
Though trauma to your perineum during birth is extremely common – about 85% of women are affected by this, according to My Expert Midwife – perineal massage is a well-researched early prevention technique that you can use to reduce the risk of tearing. Read below to find some great tips on how to do a perineal massage and how to make perineal massage an ongoing part of your pregnancy self care or partner bonding for just a couple of minutes a day.
So, firstly, what is a perineal massage? You may have heard this term at a doctor’s appointment or in your online pregnancy group, and you may be wondering what it is and if you need it.
A perineal massage is a term that describes the stretching of the area behind your vagina down to the rectum. It involves using your hands and massage gel to work and loosen this area to help provide more flexibility when it’s time for the baby to come down the birth canal. This massage does not induce labour, and it is a safe and helpful technique to be done from 34 weeks of pregnancy. It’s definitely something worth adding to your already busy routine at the end of your pregnancy. Good thing it only takes a few minutes out of your day!
Perineal massage has long been researched regarding usage and benefits for pregnant bodies. Episiotomies – a surgical cut which is an intervention that widens the birth canal and helps prevent tearing of the perineum – and natural tearing can occur when delivering vaginally. And these tears can increase postpartum recovery time.
Dedicating time to perineal massage from 34 weeks of pregnancy until delivery helps as a technique to prevent tears. Regularly performing perineal massage helps create more flexibility within the skin of the perineum, so it stretches further during labour. This helps decrease the likelihood of natural tearing and/or the need for an episiotomy, thus decreasing postpartum healing time and reducing postpartum pain and discomfort.
There are five steps to a perineal massage. In the last few weeks before delivery, you should do it for about five minutes per day. This can be done by yourself or with the help of a partner.
The first step is essential and simple: hand hygiene. Make sure your nails are cut down and that your hands are washed extremely well to prepare.
You’re already quite pregnant by this stage, so you’ll need to find a comfortable position where you can reach your perineum. Some options are one leg propped up, squatting, or sitting leaning back with your knees bent and open (back lying birth position). Different positions may be more comfortable on different days, so feel free to adjust as necessary and safe for your body.
Grab your perineal massage oil to use. Ensure the ingredients are natural and the oil is suitable for perineal massage. Massage oil helps alleviate some of the discomfort that can occur when performing the massage. Rub the massage oil onto your fingers and massage it on the perineum to make sure everything is well lubricated.
Next, either use your thumbs or two fingers and insert them inside the vagina up to about the first knuckle, with your palm resting against your leg. Begin to stretch and massage the area side to side and up and down toward the anus. The goal is to prepare the canal for stretching, which occurs on all sides during childbirth.
Reapply oil as needed throughout and continue these steps for up to five minutes. Please be aware that there may be slight pain or discomfort the first few times. Your body needs time to get used to this type of movement down below. Of course, discontinue the massage if the pain is unbearable and contact your doctor or midwife to discuss.
Through all the fads, advice, inventions and more that people send your way, it’s important to note the well-researched simple things that add to the birth and postpartum experience. Perineum massages are great tools to help improve childbirth and postpartum outcomes for birthing bodies. It’s something short that you can add to your preparations toward the end of your pregnancy. The steps here can be performed by yourself or with a partner.
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