Many women feel vaginal heaviness during pregnancy. It is often described as feeling like discomfort, pain, or pressure in and around their vaginal opening.
While this symptom can be anything from mild to downright impossible to live with, it can unfortunately be a normal part of pregnancy that often becomes more bothersome as pregnancy progresses. And although many women struggle with it, it is often one of the less glamorous side effects of pregnancy that we don’t often hear about.
So in order to help you out, let’s talk about a few reasons why we experience it, as well as a few things we can do about it.
Increased Weight of Uterus/Pressure On the Pelvic Floor
As the baby grows during pregnancy the uterus will expand to about the size of a watermelon or about 5000x in volume as compared to it’s pre-pregnancy size. This alone can leave things down below feeling under pressure.
In fact research has demonstrated that the pelvic floor lowers about 1 inch before the end of pregnancy. 1 Inch. That’s alot of pelvic floor stretching and lengthening.
In addition to increasing uterus size, a hormone, relaxin, is circulating and working it’s magic, allowing increased flexibility in your pelvic ligaments and joints (this is a good thing as it helps your body grow and birth a baby)…. but all these changes can contribute to pelvic floor lengthening and sensations of vaginal heaviness and pressure which often increase as the baby gets bigger.
Increased Blood Volume/Varicose Veins
Another factor that can contribute to pelvic heaviness is the increase in blood volume experienced during pregnancy. During pregnancy our blood volume will increase by about 50%. This increased blood flow can cause your vagina and labia to become swollen and feel tender and your pelvic area can feel full and heavy, especially if you are standing alot.
Some women will even develop varicose veins around the vagina ,vulva and/or rectum during pregnancy.
Most people think about varicose veins as only being on the legs (and they can happen there during pregnancy too) but during pregnancy they can happen around the rectum (haemorrhoids), vagina and vulva.
These swollen veins can cause a heavy sensation in the pelvis and a persistent intense ache.
A recent study by Gavrilov (2017) estimated that 18 to 22 percent of women who are pregnant have vulvar varicose veins but these numbers may even be higher as many women can’t see or feel the varicose veins in and around their vulva/perineal area.
The good news is that most vulvar varicose veins disappear without treatment after childbirth. If they don’t disappear after childbirth — or you’re experiencing them outside of pregnancy — speak to your physician as there are treatment options available to help minimize your symptoms.
Are you sick of us talking about poop yet?
Well here we go again.
Many women struggle with constipation throughout their pregnancy. Hormones, the pressure of the growing baby, or certain vitamins and medications can all result in constipation.
Constipation can cause a feeling of fullness or pressure in the vagina, especially when the stool is hard or several days have passed since a bowel movement.
Make sure you’re drinking adequate fluids, getting enough fiber and if you’re struggling with constipation PLEASE don’t hesitate to discuss options with your physician, naturopath, dietitian, or nutritionist.
Oh yeah. And get a stool (like the Squatty Potty) to use EVERY time you go to the bathroom. To find out why we recommend you always empty your bowels with knees slightly higher than hips- read this post and this post.
Pelvic organ prolapse (POP)
When vaginal pressure is intense, or if you’re feeling like there’s something in your vagina it could be a sign of POP. POP happens when organs in or near the pelvis move downward, sometimes into the vagina or rectum.
Previous childbirth, changes associated with pregnancy, or previous pelvic floor injury can contribute to POP. But it’s important to remember the POP is treatable and if you’re experiencing intense pelvic floor discomfort, feeling like there’s something in your vagina or notice changes in your bowel or bladder function you should consult your physician immediately.
Okay we’ve covered some of the reasons why women experience vaginal heaviness/pelvic heaviness during pregnancy now let’s chat about some of the things you can do about it.
So what can you do about it?
Stay active during your pregnancy. The 2019 Guidelines for physical activity through pregnancy recommend that women should be accumulating 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week (Motorola et al. 2018)
Work with your physician and healthcare team to maintain a healthy weight gain during pregnancy.
Get to know your pelvic floor. Getting to know your pelvic floor and engaging in pelvic floor exercise during pregnancy will help with pelvic floor function, support your pelvic organs and also help prepare you for birth. Want to know how to do that? Check out our post on getting to know your pelvic floor during pregnancy.
Don’t get constipated, optimize your emptying on the toilet as mentioned above.
Spend some time with your legs and or pelvis elevated everyday or when you have symptoms. Spending 5-10 minutes in one of the positions we have outlined below that is the most comfortable for you- can be helpful for fluid return and managing symptoms of pelvic heaviness.
Legs Up The Wall
If you’re comfortable lying on your back throw some cushions on the floor under your bum/pelvis and put your legs up the wall. Feel free to add some ankle pumping (move your feet like you’re pressing a gas pedal)
** If you get dizzy or don’t feel well don’t stay on your back. This can be common during pregnancy. If this happens try one of the other positions suggested.
Child’s Pose (ensuring pelvis is higher than rib cage)
This position can also assist with fluid return and symptoms of vaginal heaviness during pregnancy and is a good option if you do not feel comfortable lying on your back.
If neither of those positions are comfortable for you. Simply laying in bed on your right side with pillows under your pelvis to slightly elevate the pelvis higher than rib cage can be very helpful for fluid return and managing symptoms of vaginal heaviness.
6. And last by not least consider support garments if needed. If you’re still feeling like you need some support down below there are pressure support products on the market than can be helpful for managing symptoms. Check out one we like here.
However, before purchasing a support garment we do recommend taking two thick sanitary pads and a snug pair of full size underwear. Try wearing this for a day or two to see if you find the additional support and pressure helpful for your symptoms.
Okay there you have it. The What, Why and What to Dos for vaginal heaviness during pregnancy. Hope that helps.
And as always don’t hesitate to reach out to us with questions [email protected]
Eryn & Katie.
p.s. This post is informational in nature only. You should always discuss vaginal heaviness with your medical provider so it can be properly assessed and managed.
Gavrilov S. G. (2017). Vulvar varicosities: diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. International journal of women’s health, 9, 463–475. doi:10.2147/IJWH.S126165