Pregnancy is all about doing things you never, ever saw yourself doing. Sleeping with a life-sized pillow? Check. Using barbecue tongs to pick up stuff off the floor? Double Check. Massaging your anal region? Check. Check. Check.
Perineal massage during pregnancy is the art of manually stretching the tissue between your vagina and anus, aka your perineum, in an effort to prepare for labor. It’s an ancient practice that’s been studied by researchers in delivering your baby without damaging the area and lessening your risk of episiotomy (a surgical cut that requires stitching, can lengthen recovery time and cause scarring, pain and urinary or fecal incontinence, blech), especially when massage is performed regularly during the last few weeks of pregnancy.
< See related: What’s an episiotomy and am I going to have one? >
Your perineum spans from the rear of your vagina through your anus and rectum and it includes the back part of the birth canal. These tissues are the same ones that help keep your pelvic floor in check while also allowing you to move freely without fearing that you’ll leak urine everytime you laugh. It needs to be both firm but also flexible enough to move your baby through the birth canal. Needless to say, it’s pretty important to make sure it’s in good shape.
“While there is good but limited data on perineal massage and its ability to decrease the amount of tears, I do talk about it with some of my motivated patients and tell them to consider it twice a week for five minutes at a time,” says Dr. Shieva Ghofrany, OB-GYN and co-founder of community-based platform Tribe Called V. “My view is that it is likely harmless and at the very least it helps women connect more with their body and understand their anatomy a bit better.”
Most women will start massaging their perineum around the 34th week of pregnancy. You can do it alone or have your partner do it (hey now). Peep our tips below for doing perineal massage correctly.
Perineal Massage Tips
- Wash your hands and trim your nails (essential)
- Get comfy in a position where you can get to the area, whether sitting on your bed or squatting against a wall. Try out different position to see what feels manageable.
- Apply about a teaspoon of perineum specific massage gel (definitely opt for gel versus oil, as it helps hydrate the tissue) onto your fingers and apply it to the perineum. Place your thumbs inside your vagina. Press them firmly towards your perineum and against the sides of your vagina until you feel a tingling or stretching sensation. Firmly massage in a U-shaped motion. Move from the sides of your vagina downwards to your perineum, and back up again.
- Do for about five minutes per day leading up to your delivery.