What is the Perineum?
Your perineum is the small area of skin between the opening of your vagina and the opening of your anus. This tender piece of anatomy is very sensitive and before birth is generally very tight and non-elastic. Though it is designed to stretch during childbirth, many women experience some degree of tearing in the second stage of pushing. In some cases, doctors or midwives may introduce a small cut to the perineum, called an episiotomy to widen the vaginal opening in an effort to hasten the birth process.
It is important for your perineum to remain strong both to ease the birth process and increase overall health in relation to urinary and digestive health as well as reproductive and sexual health. Kegel Exercises during and after pregnancy strengthen the perineum and the pelvic floor to protect them from injury during childbirth. In a similar fashion, perineal massage can help prepare the perineum to adequately stretch to allow for a vaginal birth, and can also help avoid an episiotomy. Since extreme tearing and episiotomy can be painful to recover from, and also cause lasting difficulties with incontinence later in life, it's important to do all you can to protect yourself from injury.
What is Perineal Massage?
Perineal massage is away of gently softening the muscles of the perineum to enable them to stretch during childbirth and recover more fully after birth. Beginning in the 36th week of pregnancy, the expectant mother can, either individually or with the help of her partner, apply gentle pressure to the area daily in order to prepare for childbirth.
In order to perform perineal massage on yourself or your partner, first make sure your hands are clean and your fingernails are trimmed. Then apply a small amount of a natural oil, like olive oil or an all natural massage oil, to your finger tips. Rub some of the oil on the perineum and surrounding area of skin to begin the process. Then, insert your thumbs into the vagina, near the bottom of the opening leading to the perineum. Pull downward, toward the perineum and anus, until there is tension but not to the point of discomfort. Gently keep the tension and move your thumbs outward toward the sides of the vaginal open and repeat the motion several times. Imagine you are rubbing the oil into that area of skin as you would lotion.
Some women prefer for their partner to help them with this process, especially since reaching around their growing belly to their vulva can be difficult! Some partners may feel uncomfortable with this process. Remember to communicate with each other and remain calm and relaxed. Mothers should be vocal and honest about any discomfort and partners should be sensitive to this as they help with the process.
This is a great time to put to use your relaxation techniques for labor and birth. If you need to, take a warm bath to relax beforehand, and play some relaxing music. If you have a play list of music for your birth, listen to those songs and breathe deeply as you focus on your perineum and give attention to relaxing it in order to make way for a smoother and better birth experience!