The vast majority of women in the UK believe that more education is needed about the vagina and vulva, particularly in regards to pregnancy and birth. We caught up with My Expert Midwife as part of their Know Your Bits campaign, which aims to educate women on the different parts and what they each do.
83% of women in the UK feel that more education is required about the physical changes that can occur to the vagina and vulva during pregnancy and childbirth, whilst two thirds (66%) believe there is social stigma around discussing their genitals during pregnancy and after childbirth!
At My Expert Midwife, we thought it was about time we developed a much-needed information resource, dedicated to helping everyone learn more about their bits; which bits are where, what bits do which jobs and, generally, to celebrate how amazing our bits are!
The vulva is the name for female genitals visible on the outside of the body. The vulva includes the labia majora and minora, clitoral hood and clitoris, the opening to the vagina and the urethra. Vulvas are as personal and unique as faces, they have the same parts in similar places but will look different from each other, in both shape and colour. Their hair covering also varies, some having more than others, of different colours, lengths and textures.
2. Mons Pubis
The Mons Pubis is a rounded pad (or mound) of fatty tissue that covers your symphysis pubis, or ‘pubic bone’, at the front of your pelvis. It is covered by skin and pubic hair and provides protection to the thick cartilage that joins your pelvis together, also offering cushioning during sexual intercourse. It contains many touch receptors as well as glands that secrete pheromones, which are chemicals that induce arousal and attraction in a partner.
The clitoris is at the top of the vulva and is protected and covered by the clitoral hood, which is literally a hood of skin over it. It can vary in size from a small pea to the size of the tip of the nose. Although relatively small from the outside, the shaft and roots extend through the body much further and around the vulva and vaginal area. The clitoris, like the penis, has the ability to grow in size during sexual arousal and can create orgasms when stimulated.
4. Urethral opening
This is the opening between the clitoris and vagina from which you pass urine. It is connected to the urethra which is the tube that transports urine from the bladder and can be visualised as slightly smaller than the end of a drinking straw.
5 + 6. Labia Majora / Minora
The labia majora are the thicker lips surrounding the vaginal opening with pubic hair on and the labia minora are the thinner lips inside, next to the vaginal opening. The labia provide protection for the more delicate parts of the vulva such as the vaginal opening, vagina and its mucous membranes, the urethral opening and the clitoris.
Some people have short labia minora and, others, longer labia which are more visible externally. It is common for one side to be longer than the other and for the colour to vary from dark brown to pale pink, especially with different skin tones. All these variations are completely normal.
7. Vaginal opening
The vaginal opening is just below the urethra. It is the entrance to the vagina which is a muscular tube with great abilities to stretch to accommodate the birth of a baby and then to be able to shrink back again. It is also where the menstrual/period blood and other secretions leave the body.
The perineum is between the vaginal opening and the anus. It is useful to understand that the perineum, which is part of the pelvic floor, is a thick muscle which needs to thin down to paper thin during crowning of the baby’s head (buttocks if breech). Regular perineal massage helps these tissues to become softer and more elastic in preparation for birth and, thus, less likely to sustain a more severe tear.
The anus is the bum hole from which you poo from. Anus is derived from Latin and means circle or ring. It stays tightly closed due to the anal sphincter muscle until it is stimulated to open by needing to pass a bowel movement. It is very close in location to the vagina, separated only by the perineum.
Understanding the different changes and possible ailments that may happen to your “bits” during your pregnancy, your birth and your recovery will help you feel informed and able to distinguish what is ‘normal’ and when you may need to seek advice from a health professional. To learn more about changes to your bits in pregnancy and how you can soothe them read our blog on how to use Spritz for Bits during pregnancy and birth recovery.
Here are 4 My Expert Midwife top tips to look after your bits during pregnancy, prepare them for birth and help you recover!
1 – During your pregnancy – hormonal changes, the weight of carrying your baby and fluid retention can all contribute to feelings of heaviness and discomfort, as well as ailments such as thrush or piles.
Top tip: Using Spritz for Bits can offer much-needed relief by calming itchiness, providing a cooling effect and, generally, soothing your bits.
2 - Perineal massage – when done regularly, from 34 weeks of pregnancy, perineal massage has been clinically proven to help make the perineum (the muscle between your vagina and anus, which stretches to allow your baby to be born) more elastic and stretch better during childbirth, reducing your risk of tearing and the need for an episiotomy.
Top tip: use My Expert Midwife’s perineal massage oil which has been specially blended and designed for perineal massage or an oil such as almond oil.
3 - Relieve your bits – Following the birth of your baby your bits may be tender, bruised and swollen, and you may be recovering from tears or an episiotomy. Your vulva and perineum are likely to feel sore and uncomfortable, more so if you’ve sustained a tear or a cut (episiotomy).
Top tip: You can use Spritz for Bits for instant relief from day one. Spray it directly onto your perineum or your pad straight after the birth; and use it before/after your first few wees to calm any stinging.
When to contact your midwife/doctor: If the pain and/or swelling worsens or does not improve with pain-relief and management, you notice an offensive smell, bleeding or abnormal discharge from the wound, or you feel unwell.
4 - Prioritise your recovery – As well as experiencing tender bits, you are likely to feel tired and generally achy after giving birth.
Top tip: You can store your Spritz for Bits in the fridge for extra cooling relief when you spray.