For a lot of pregnant mamas, one of the big questions surrounding labour and delivery is: “Will I tear when I give birth?”
While there’s no way to guarantee you won’t tear, perineal massage is a technique you may want to explore during pregnancy to help reduce your risk of tearing when the big day arrives. Read on to learn more about perineal massage and some tips to help you get started.
What is Perineal Massage?
Perineal massage involves massaging the tissues of your perineum. The perineum is the space in between the vaginal opening and the anus. “It’s a small area of soft tissue that really is an integral part of the labour and delivery process,” explains Dr. Elizabeth Stroot, PT, DPT, and founder of Core Wellness.
Massaging the perineum helps to increase blood flow to the perineal area, which can help the tissues stretch more easily during childbirth.
Prenatal Perineal Massage Video
This video with Dr. Elizabeth Stroot, PT, DPT, walks you through perineal massage: how to do it, when to do it, why we do it, and more.
When to Start Perineal Massage
If you’re comfortable, you can begin perineal massage any time after week 34 of pregnancy. By this point in your pregnancy, the hormone relaxin has started to kick in. Relaxin does exactly what its name implies, Dr. Stroot shares. “It's allowing connective tissue to become more extensible so that the skeletal frame has a little bit of play to it as baby starts to drop down into the birth canal. Specifically, it's helping to “relax” the ligaments, and pubic symphysis of the pelvis,” she says.
What Are the Benefits of Perineal Massage?
Massaging the perineum during the last few weeks of pregnancy may help to allow it stretch more easily when your baby’s head is crowning during labour. Practicing perineal massage can also help you become more familiar with the feeling of stretching that you will feel during labour.
Studies show that 85% of women who have a vaginal birth will experience some form of trauma to their perineum1. That could be in the form of excessive stretching, general swelling, bruising, graze tearing, tearing naturally, or an episiotomy, which is a cut in the area between the vagina and anus to enable the delivery of your baby.
That statistic can seem scary but trying techniques like perineal massage during pregnancy can be helpful in reducing your risk of tearing during childbirth.
How to Do Perineal Massage
Before you get started, you’ll want to ensure your hands are clean and nails are clean and short. Then settle in and make yourself comfortable – you can try this with one leg raised on a stool, sitting, or lying down. Prior to beginning perineal massage, use a perineal massage oil to condition the external skin of the perineum.
- Make small, circular movements on either side of your vulva, to warm the tissue.
- Put your thumb or finger about an inch into your vagina. Gently stretch the tissue at the vaginal entrance, holding it between your thumb and index finger.
- Massage from the 6 o’clock to 3 o’clock position, then from the 6 o’clock to 9 o’clock position. Focus on the area at the entrance to the vagina. Take your time and repeat each side 3-4 times. Be gentle but firm enough to work into the tissue.
- Finish with gentle outwards stretches at the 5 o'clock and 7 o'clock positions, holding for 30-45 seconds. Also stretch any scar tissue you may have from previous births.
You can see the benefits from practicing the technique 5 to 10 minutes a day, even 3 days a week.
During pregnancy, it's important to consult your healthcare provider before beginning any new activity, including perineal massage. A mild prickling sensation is common, however if you experience any sharp or severe pain or bleeding, stop and speak to a healthcare professional.
Download your FREE handy guide to Perineal Massage Here.
Getting Comfortable with Perineal Massage
If this technique is new to you, you’re not alone! “It’s normal to feel kind of awkward, given that this is a technique that perhaps you've never done before or anything similar to it, for that matter. But like anything new, it just takes time, it takes patience, and it takes your continued persistence in trying and relaxing into it,” Dr. Stroot advises.
Once you feel comfortable, give it a go. Start slow, work into it, and be consistent. Read our healing guide for more information on perineum pain and healing. Lastly, check out our Birth Preparation & Recovery range made specifically to help with your post-partum experience.
1 Beckmann MM, Stock OM. Antenatal perineal massage for reducing perineal trauma. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013;(4):CD005123