It’s no secret that your body will change when you have a child. Things feel different, your skin breaks out, stretch marks appear, and even your hair can change. But it's impossible to talk about bodily changes without mentioning what happens to your genitals. Like does your clitoris change after pregnancy? Because it sure took a beating if you had a vaginal birth. (And honestly, it probably changed throughout pregnancy, too.)
If you have a vaginal birth, you can expect some changes to occur, but the severity of these changes and how long your recovery takes will depend on a number of factors. “After the majority of first births, the vaginal tissue, including the clitoris, is swollen and bruised for a period of two to six weeks,” birth educator and doula Sara Lyon tells Romper. “As the tissue recovers, there can be longer-lasting changes like loss of sensation, stinging, or tenderness — particularly if there has been tearing — but those symptoms often subside with the cessation of breastfeeding as the postpartum hormones dissipate.”
Can The Clitoris Actually Tear During Childbirth?
Reading the word “tearing” in relation to your clitoris likely sparks a bit of fear, so let’s address that first and foremost. Lyon explains that while this can happen, it’s actually pretty rare.
“The most important things to remember about childbirth are one, there are no guarantees, and two, statistically speaking, really crazy things probably won’t happen to you,” Lyon says. “With that in mind, yes, it is possible for a woman to injure or tear her clitoris or periclitoral tissue — the hood. It is, by far, the most surprising and terrifying thing that most of us can hear about our bodies, but it isn’t a common occurrence.”
The positioning of your baby and how quickly they are delivered will factor into whether or not tearing happens — to your clitoris, perineum, or other tissue that is stressed during delivery. Unfortunately, healing from a clitoral tear takes time, and can be quite painful.
Dr. Anita Sadaty, who specializes in integrative gynecology and functional medicine, tells Romper that some tears will require stitches, which she says can be “painful due to the extraordinary number of nerve endings there.” She also notes, however, that “because it is so vascular and has good blood flow,” this can contribute positively to the healing process.
The severity of a tear will determine how long healing takes and how much medical treatment or intervention is required to help you recover. But just because you experienced clitoral tearing in one birth does not mean you’re doomed to have it happen with every birth. “It’s important to note that a clitoral tear with your first birth doesn’t condemn you to clitoral tears henceforth,” Lyon says. “Most women will not tear anteriorly in following births and might not tear at all.”
Changes To The Clitoris Can Happen Even When Tearing Does Not
Even without an injury like tearing, your clitoris may be swollen and tender to the touch in the immediate postpartum period. It can be severely stretched and manipulated during the course of vaginal childbirth, and may become swollen and uncomfortable after giving birth.
OB-GYN Dr. Kim Langdon confirms to Romper that alongside swelling, tenderness, and loss of sensation, some people also experience itching and burning of the clitoris after giving birth. Any of the thousands of nerves in the clitoris can experience damage during childbirth, which can cause pain and possible sexual dysfunction, be it temporary or otherwise.
“There are many potential changes that can occur and stick around like nerve involvement/entrapment, scarring, persistent swelling, etc.,” Lisa Sottung, a physical therapist with WiseBody tells Romper. “In those cases, it is imperative to get help from a pelvic floor or women's health physical therapist to resolve the symptoms.”
When Will Your Clitoris Get Back To Normal?
Even if you don’t experience tearing, don't expect your clitoris to heal overnight. Those tiny tears that might happen from the abrasive aspects of childbirth, along with the influx of hormones that change your entire body, are also responsible for the changes in your clitoris postpartum. So, your clitoris may look different after giving birth, but it will likely return to your body’s baseline with time.
“The entire area, including the vagina, do not fully return to normal for about a year, and there can be permanent changes to its external appearance,” Langdon tells Romper. “The vagina generally returns to its pre-pregnancy caliber unless there was a really large baby or extensive lacerations.”
Women who experience clitoral discomfort or pain in the postpartum period generally report that the pain continues about as long as they bleed postpartum, or around six weeks. Other women, like those with damage to the dorsal nerve of the clitoris or those women who had a particularly complex birth, might experience more pain, swelling, and dysfunction than women with simpler deliveries.
“The acute postpartum recovery period needs to be respected and protected for fast, thorough healing of the vaginal tissue and, frankly, your reproductive organs more broadly. You just went through the workout of your life and you will need to treat your body as though you are a recovering athlete,” Lyon says. She recommends resting horizontally, icing the area, and seeking professional help from a physical therapist and possibly a mental health professional to help cope with your post-birth recovery.
As with everything related to childbirth, if you have any concerns, or if something just doesn't look right or feel right to you, it’s worth a discussion with your physician.
Sara Lyon, birthing expert, doula, author of The Birth Deck and You’ve Got This: Your Guide to Getting Comfortable with Labor
Dr. Kim Langdon, OB-GYN with Medzino
Lisa Sottung, PT, CSI, CFMT, OCS of WiseBody PT
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