The perineum is the area of skin and tissue that runs between the vaginal opening and the rectum. It's the area that women are talking about when they refer to "tearing" during childbirth, and it's the skin that is cut by a doctor during labour in a procedure called an episiotomy. According to William and Martha Sears, authors of "The Birth Book" and contributors to Childbirth.org, massaging this area helps to stretch the tissue, which can reduce tearing and episiotomies, and the uncomfortable burning sensation many women feel during birth. They also credit perineum massage with faster post-birth healing. This is a practice you can complete daily, starting about 30 to 35 weeks into your pregnancy.
- Skill level:
Things you need
- Mirror (optional)
Choose an oil. Cold-pressed oils are better because they are less processed and generally contain fewer toxins. Avoid baby oil or mineral oil because they are known to dry out the skin in some people. Olive oil is a common choice, as is almond oil, jojoba oil and grape seed oil. See Resources for a specially formulated perennial massage oil.
Warm the oil by placing the container in a bowl of hot water. This makes things soothing and more comfortable. Gently apply some of the oil to the perineum and to your (or your partner's) hands. If you are doing the massage yourself, use a mirror to assist you in finding the perineum.
Focus intently on relaxation, paying attention to your breath. Visualise your perineum relaxing and stretching during this massage. If you are tense, your muscles will clench and it will not be a comfortable experience. Focusing on relaxing your jaw often results in relaxing the muscles of the vaginal floor.
Begin massaging by having your partner or yourself use a well oiled thumb to gently enter the vaginal opening. If you are comfortable, use two thumbs. Run your thumb(s) around the rim of the vaginal opening, gently applying pressure downward and outward in both directions. Apply enough pressure so that you feel a very mild stretching or burning sensation. You do not want to create pain with this massage, just a gentle stretching. Repeat these movements for up to five minutes, gently but firmly massaging the perineum and bottom of the vaginal opening.
Move to the external area of the perineum, starting in the middle and using your thumbs to knead outward like you are making a lower-case "m." This will help to loosen and stretch this tissue. This process takes some time; you may not notice any improvement in elasticity in the beginning. Repeat the process daily.
Tips and warnings
- Use a cold-pressed oil with as few additives and preservatives as possible. Cold-pressed oils tend to be more pure than other oils.
- It's not a good idea to practice perineum massage if you are having a breakout of genital warts or herpes, as this could spread the infection to the person performing the massage, and potentially spread lesions into the vagina.
- Be careful of any scar tissue from earlier episiotomies or existing tears because this tissue will not stretch as easily as other tissues and can cause some discomfort during massage.
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